51b635d02e972_80495nI’m happy to announce that my chapbook of prose poetry “Attachment Theory” has just been released from dancing girl press in Chicago. Click here to read a sneak peak poem and grab a copy.

If we’re on the same continent and we see each other, I promise to sign it.

 

 

As promised, a guest blog by the always lovely and supportive Ben and Sarah Pfeiffer, my second guests in Russia. Learn more about Ben and his writing here.

We promised to visit our friend, and we keep our promises. So we arrived after sixteen hours breathing recycled air and eating prepackaged airplane food and watching movies in the back of the headrests and reading Crime and Punishment. One stop in New York City and then hours suspended over the Atlantic. Kara met us at the airport, Sheremetyevo International (SVO). She met us outside of customs where a single, bored looking Russian waved us through without inspecting us. We took the train into the city and walked to the subway station. Kara pointed out the feral dogs, and, even though we wanted to, we didn’t pet them.

We rode the subway to Red Square and walked past the Bolshoi Theatre (Большóй Теáтр) to our hotel, a Marriott across the street from the Historical Museum of Gulag (Музей Истории Гулага). We couldn’t check in for a few hours and so we people watched in the lobby and paid the equivalent of $30 for two glasses of iced tea because we weren’t used to the currency. We went up to the room, a plain, clean, red-and-white space, plugged our iPhones into the strange two-pronged outlets, and fell asleep.

Kara met us that evening after work and took us to dinner and afterward we walked to Red Square. We took pictures of the cathedrals and the State Historical Museum. In the morning, we went back alone and stumbled around until we found the entrance to the Kremlin. Inside we passed the office buildings and the gold-white cathedrals and went on along the river. We took a tour of the Armory in the afternoon, peered through thick glass at the tsarist treasures, pressed the audio tour headphones into our ears to keep from dropping them. Then we went out again and went looking for something to eat. We found a London pub and ordered Pepsi (Пепси). That night Kara took us through a part of town called Clear Ponds (Чистый Пруди) to a hip and excellent restaurant where they wouldn’t let you take pictures. We drank beer and took a picture anyway when the staff wasn’t looking.

The next day, Wednesday, we rode the subway by ourselves. I took Russian in college and some of it returned to me in Moscow and I could sort of sound out the places and we didn’t get lost like we thought we might. Kara met us at the subway stop and we walked past an enormous abandoned fortress complex to the university where she teaches. The New Economic School is in a tall office building with a sculpture hanging on the front, a gray concrete platelet of epic proportions, or some kind of flattened doughnut ring, a piece of modern or soviet art. We ate in the cafeteria. She showed us the damaged sheetrock outside her office where a man who works in her school’s building shoots an airsoft gun into a paper target. He just stands on a balcony and smokes cigars and fires his toy guns down the hall or into the open air above the city. We met Olga, Kara’s boss, and we met her friends, who we would see again that night at dinner.

Another short subway ride brought us to a sculpture park filled with broken monuments to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Lenin’s head. Stalin’s head with the nose chiseled off. Hammers and sickles, a cage of poured concrete heads. Angels, rabbits in a boat, a soviet worker woman, a cartoon statue of Albert Einstein (Альберт Эйнштейн) and Neils Bohr (Нильс Бор). We walked through the park to the river and gazed at the enormous statue of Peter the Great. Russians hate the statue. Urban legend claims at the statue—the eighth tallest in the world at 98 meters—was ordered for America as a statue of Christopher Columbus. That’s why Peter is on a bunch of ships and has a golden map. When America rejected the design, apparently they just knocked off Columbus’s head and put Peter’s on, which involved changing the features to have fashionable mustaches and crazy eyes. The statue supposedly commemorates 300 years of the Russian navy, which Peter started, and was designed by a Georgian named Zurab Tsereteli. Peter the Great hated Moscow so it’s strange that his 15-story-tall statue should appear in this city that he abandoned to start St. Petersburg. Apparently this same Tsereteli did design a statue of Christopher Columbus called “Birth of the New World,” and the U.S. did in fact reject the design, so there might be something to those legends about the origins. People think Tsereteli’s designs are pompous and self-important. We didn’t care. Then to kill time we went to Gorky Park and bought more Pepsis. In line, a kid asked us, “Are you Americans?” Strangely enough, he turned out to attend the same small college in Missouri that Kara had gone to, a coincidence strange enough to appear in a Charles Dickens novel. We were over 5,000 miles from Missouri, after all, so maybe he was lying.

There’s so much more to tell. We ate a wonderful Georgian meal with Kara’s friends, we rode a night train to St. Petersburg, and we spent an evening at the ballet, Swan Lake. We drank liquor made from small red berries of a kind not seen in the U.S. and we stayed up late talking. We went to Peter the Great’s palace, now a museum, the Hermitage. We bought playing cards with tsars on them; we bought a furry Russian hat with earflaps from a man whose nose was dripping snot down his chin and onto his chest. We spent hours walking among the St. Petersburg canals and we rode the deepest subway system in Europe if not the world. We took a day train back to Moscow. At the train station we ate cheese pastries and watched Russian music videos, including one with a sexy bellhop who falls in love with a socialite and one with a rock star who dresses up like Spider-man and drives a tank and one with a fat American who turns into a vicious beast that eats the sun and plunges the world into darkness. Kara took us to the airport the next morning. We passed through customs without speaking to the Russian guards who examined us. On the flight home, before we landed in America again, before we came back to our lives and our jobs, we spent sixteen hours breathing recycled air and eating prepackaged airplane food and watching movies in the back of the headrests and finishing Crime and Punishment. We had promised to visit our friend, and we always keep our promises.

When the Russians put a beach in at Gorky Park, I knew spring/summer had officially started. There are beach chairs and umbrellas and families who bring buckets and shovels. I’ve been to Gorky Park three times since the beach’s opening and every time, it’s packed, the rest of the park, too. There are bikers and rollerbladers and food carts. The Russians have lost their fur coats and hats, and I feel like I’m looking at completely different people, though the women’s stilettos and panty hose with jean shorts reminds me where I am. SONY DSC

We all wore jackets when I left for Greece the second week of May. I got a sunburn there and came back to a hot and sunny Moscow. Most days were breezy, but if it didn’t hit just right, the office or apartment was stuffy and hot, almost unbearable. The afternoon sunshine that was once my apartment’s best quality now became something to avoid. I tried to develop a system where I could let air in through the windows without letting in the sun; this was mostly unsuccessful.  After sweating through pants and sleeved blouses for two days at work, I declared I would only wear sleeveless dresses. I tried to welcome the warm weather by cutting some new jorts and going to the park after work, where I knew there would at least be a breeze.

Luckily, Moscow’s yearly 2 week hot water shut off happened during these warm days, so my ice cold morning showers were more bearable. Apparently the government is repairing the pipes? Or they’re replacing the pipes? Or they’re saving money? No one’s really sure. Literally, I turned the hot water knob and absolutely nothing came out. I knew this happened in the summer, but I assumed “summer” meant June or July. I’m happy to have it over. SONY DSC

As if blizzards never happened, everything is green again. Leaves fill the trees. I think I see carrots and lamb’s quarters along the sidewalks, in the park. Russians eat ice cream any time of day–for breakfast, after work. I’m told it’s better here because the Russians aren’t really concerned about butter or fat content like Americans. The sun rises at 4:30 am and sets around 10 pm. The cafes have reconstructed their porches and planted flowers in hanging boxes.

Last weekend, Moscow participated in Europe’s “Museum Night,” so museums and parks all over the city stayed open until 5:30 am. It seemed like the entire city was out. We took a candlelit walking tour of one of the city’s neighborhoods and watched silent films outdoors. It rained and the wet pollen painted the streets. SONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSC

After sweating it out all week, I wore shorts and a t-shirt for Museum Night. But it got cold and windy and stormed and everyone else had jackets and pants. SONY DSCIn the fall, I declared that Moscow never had thunderstorms because for months I saw no lightening, heard no thunder. But now I know that Moscow does get storms, just in the spring. It has stormed almost every day for over a week, sometimes for the entire day and other times for just a few hours, and the weather forecast promises at least a week more. Sometimes it clears off early evening and I catch this view of smoke rolling over the trees when I get home from work.

SONY DSCI caught a break in the rain this morning for a jog. The sidewalks were wet and the lawn mowers threw clumps of grass everywhere. In the park, they were pulling up tulips before they died. I remember this breaking my heart on KU’s campus, the garbage bags of flowers such a waste. I decided that on the way back, I would ask permission to take some. But when I got there other people already were picking them, so I knew it was okay. I picked 13–Russians consider getting an even number of flowers bad luck, just like hugging in doorways or wishing someone Happy Birthday a day early–and jogged back to the apartment. I felt lucky.

Lawrence buds Ben + Sarah visited me in Moscow and we went to St. Petersburg. I have almost as much to say about the night train to St. Petersburg as I have to say about St. Petersburg itself. Basically, it fascinated me.

The rooms are super tiny and they have two sets of bunk beds. We are Americans, so our luggage was kind of big.  After some struggle, Ben was able to get our suitcases put out of the way. Sarah and I attempted to be helpful, but the room was really too small for us to do much.

Since there were only three of us (and the rooms hold four), we had a Russian roommate, Pavel. After we got our luggage crammed into the storage spaces under the seats and wedged under the table, Ben, Sarah, Pavel, and I all sat on the bottom bunks and looked at each other. He worked for a “military company” and traveled to Moscow often. He was nice enough and quiet. He answered our train questions.

When we tired of looking at each other, we decided to go to bed. This didn’t take long because the train left at 11:59 pm and we were tired. The night train gives you a toothbrush and toothpaste so to keep from having to dig through my luggage, I used it; its plastic bristles came out in my teeth and that was weird. I had dibs on the top bunk, and Pavel had the other top bunk. Before we turned off the light, he undressed modestly under the covers. That was also kind of weird. Ben said he couldn’t relax and sleep with a stranger in the room, but it didn’t bother me, even though that stranger was in his underwear. The train bed was more comfortable than my couch bed and the rocking motion helped me fall asleep.

In the morning, Pavel tried to keep us from looking like complete train idiots. As we neared the station in St. Petersburg around 7:30 am, he woke us up: “Good morning. It is now time to get dressed, use toilet, have a breakfast.”

I heeded Pavel’s warning and went to brush my teeth with the train toothbrush and change clothes. The morning after was quite possibly the most interesting part of the trip, and waiting in the long line for the bathroom gave me time to observe the other passengers. Some of them were already back in their suits/business clothes and some of them were still in their pajamas or shirtless and almost everyone had bedhead. People wore cheap plastic flip flops or house shoes as they stomped through the hallway. Seeing adult strangers in their pajamas immediately after waking feels incredibly intimate. The train stewardess was still working and she could carry four mugs of hot tea in one hand.

And then we were there. St. Petersburg feels much more European than Moscow. Initially I thought “Hey–maybe I should have moved here instead” but then I remembered that St. Petersburg is also  714.9 km (444 miles) north of Moscow and quite a bit colder and wetter.  Highlights included:

1. Beautiful architecture. Canals. Big, open squares.

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2. Cake/pastries and beer, though never together.

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We found our own hole in the wall bakery where we had delicious cheese pastries multiple times.

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We also went to this famous Soviet-style bakery named север. The cakes were delicious but the ladies who sold the cakes there were grouchy. I’ve gotten a thicker skin about stuff like that and didn’t shed one single tear, just ate my cake. SONY DSC

I had my first beer brewed in a Russian microbrewery. In fact, we found two bars that brewed their own beer. This was great, because I was starting to think that “Siberian Crown” and “Zatecky Gus” were the only Russian beers I was going to have. Ben + Sarah also bought playing cards with the Russian oligarchs’ portraits.

3. The Hermitage.

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The Hermitage used to be a palace and now it is a museum and it houses tons of Russian art, European art, and “Russian lifestyle” exhibits, and also there are mummies in the basement. Though the art and mummies are cool, the coolest part is that they’ve kept many of the rooms as “Palace” rooms. So, you get to stroll into a ballroom or stand in the throne room. I don’t typically choose ornate decor and/or gold, but the Hermitage wore it well.

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Sarah + Me in Hermitage

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Ben + Sarah in Hermitage

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As we left the Hermitage, a bike race was ending.

4. I finally went to a Russian ballet. We saw Swan Lake. I was going to try to sneak a photo, but when the lady caught us eating really tiny chocolate bars and said “We don’t eat in here,” I lost my courage.

5. Souvenir shopping. Like Moscow, St. Petersburg had areas filled with street vendors.

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While looking for a hat, Ben became friends with this Russian man wearing a USA Baseball leather jacket.  SONY DSC

When we went back the next day, the USA Baseball guy wasn’t there, but Ben did find a hat. Luckily, Sarah and I were able to talk him out of the one that looked like it was made of gray rabbit’s fur. It was real big.

Because Ben + Sarah had to catch their flight the next day, we took the bullet train back. It was faster, but there were no bunk beds.

 

As promised, a guest blog by the one and only Molly McCleery, the first of many of my guests to Russia. I hope you enjoy reading her impressions about her trip to the Motherland.

On a Wednesday last February, I drove from Omaha to Lawrence to see a Ryan Adams show with Kara. After the concert, I skipped my Thursday classes, and we had the first annual Kara-Molly Midweek Weekend, a time where we do weekend things (get brunch, go to record stores, etc.) in the middle of the week. Moscow was like a giant midweek weekend. It is impossible for me to articulate all of my thoughts on this experience in a short blog post. Consequently, I will shy away from making any big statements about what I think of Moscow. What follows will likely seem silly to those with an expansive knowledge of Russian history, which I admittedly lack.

I’m not sure when it was decided I was going to visit Moscow. I think when Kara told me she had gotten the job at NES and was moving to Moscow, we both just assumed that I would visit at some point. After months of anticipation, all of the sudden it was time for me to go to Moscow. In Lincoln, I packed up a suitcase full of warm clothes and American snacks for Kara and headed on my way. After stops in Knoxville, Des Moines, Minneapolis, and New York City, I arrived at Sheremetyevo. Kara bought me the first of many cups of coffee consumed throughout the trip, and we were on our way. Here is a quick run down of my observations from Moscow:
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1. A few of the things I loved most about Russia: eating many delicious cheese-based dishes (syrniki, zapekana, bliny) at canteens, sculptures (the Fallen Monument Park and the Yuri Gagarin statue), and coffee at Ludi Kak Ludi. I also loved drinking beers in the afternoon at super hip bars.

2. Russian winter attire is AMAZING, especially women’s fur coats and children’s snowsuits. Every time we would get on the Metro, it would be filled with women wearing huge fur coats. Some of them were extremely glamorous, like pieces of a movie costume. Others were just gross, made of some inexplicable animal’s dirty and matted hair. Another passenger would inevitably shove you into these coats, forcing you to touch the remains of whatever animal had been made into a jacket. DSCF0509

However, my feelings toward children’s snowsuits are 100% positive. Kara can attest to the fact that I was obsessed with them. Toddlers who, by nature, stumble around are further constricted when their parents dress them in layers and layers of waterproof gear. Not only do the snowsuits prevent the snow from getting in, they also prevent children from being able to raise their arms, bend their legs when sitting on the Metro, or walk at a normal pace. As a result, children walk like tiny robots as their parents essentially drag them around the city. My favorite snowsuit child sat, completely covered except for her fat little cheeks, eating a gigantic cone of cotton candy. Whatta life.
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3. No matter where you are in the world, there is really something to be said for slow brunches at home while watching Beyonce music videos. The same can be said for wine and animal crackers.

4. I would like to contact Nicholas Cage’s people about him making the Russian version of National Treasure that I dreamed up when we visited the Kremlin. It involves a briefcase full of rubles and the secret passageways from the Kremlin cathedrals to the tzarina’s bedrooms in the palace.
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5. Can someone please explain to me the weird sandwich meal you get on international flights? This is the sandwich you get two to three hours after your full meal. On my flight from Moscow to New York, we got the most interesting sandwich meal I’ve ever gotten on an airplane: a dinner roll stuffed with melted cheese, green peppers, and chunks of ham served with Russian Baskin Robbins ice cream. I know international travel means getting hungry at weird times, but I do not understand this.

molly mccleery in moscow

March 31, 2013

In August 2005, Molly McCleery and I attended Truman State’s “Truman Week,” which was basically a week of “get-to-know-you” type games, club intro meetings, and lectures/presentations; it was sorta like church camp minus God.

Molly and I were both enrolled in Dr. Tornatore’s intermediate Spanish class for Truman Week, and we both giggled when he politely asked the class, “Ladies, may I remove my jacket?” Molly was cool and alternative and so over Truman Week. So was I. Allegedly, I wore a brown-gypsy-like skirt that Molly found cool. Molly had a Fall Out Boy t-shirt, so I knew she was cool.  We would both like to forget these wardrobe choices.

Since August 2005, we have taken classes together (some semesters the number of classes we chose to take together was just embarrassing), lived together, completed grad school 4 hours apart (together), and had many adventures, most of them involving road trips across America’s beautiful Midwest, tallboys, animal crackers, bands that play harmonica, and/or snow.

We had never been to Moscow, though. After 7.5 years, we can finally check that one off the list.

Molly has promised to write a guest blog entry about her visit, so I won’t say much, but I have to at least say a few things:

1. Having someone here to tour guide around made me realize that I know a lot more about Moscow than I thought. Like, I know where things are. And I know how to navigate metro stops. And I know hip restaurants/cafes/coffee shops. Even when we got “lost,” we were never really lost because I knew where we were and where we needed to go.

I also know way more Russian than I thought. I realized this when we were trying to have syrniki, coffee, and reading time near Red Square and Maxim (a forty-ish year old Russian dude who was five vodkas in) wouldn’t stop hitting on us. When he said (in Russian), that I was beautiful and then that Molly was beautiful, I knew reading time was over. And we left.

2. While we visited some of my favorite spots, having Molly here encouraged me to see some new sight-seeing things.

We went inside the Kremlin…

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I tried to sneak into the Kremlin Palace.

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There were many cathedrals and even more icons.

We also went to the Fallen Monument Park, which houses Soviet sculptures. This place is incredibly cool.

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USSR. SONY DSC

Molly founds this cage of Stalin heads. Only heads. SONY DSC

Out of the numerous Stalin statues, I was drawn to this one. No one seems to notice that his face is partly gone. Also, someone had recently left flowers there. Which was…well…surprising to us.

Also, because Molly was here, I had the courage to talk to the Vladimir Putin look-alike at Red Square. When he wanted to charge 1000 rubles (and then quickly 700 and then 500) for a photo with him and his fake Russian flags, I was like “Dude, you cray cray.”

3. It was so nice to just do normal, best friend things. Like making brunch and dinner together. And watching really intense, thought provoking historical dramas like Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. And having a breakdown when Russia dumped more snow on us (on March 24th) and not having to have that breakdown alone. And laughing, so much laughing. Molly was quite taken with the Russian children who can’t put their arms down because of their snowsuits.

Molly said she would only buy a matryoshka if it was the size of a thimble. Naturally, when I found a thimble-sized matryoshka, I insisted she buy it. We then began taking photos for an art installment called “Baby Matryoshka.”

I call this one, “Baby Matryoshka or Really Big Chair?”

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Winter Sports 2013

March 4, 2013

Cabin fever is real. Before I came back to the States for Christmas, I was dumb. Despite ice on the sidewalks and temperatures around zero (windchill around negative fifteen), I still ran outside when I didn’t go to the pool. One sunny Saturday, I ran outside for only ten minutes before my hands started stinging, despite wearing winter running gloves. By the time I got back to my apartment (another ten minutes), they were numb. I laid on top of them in my bed for an hour crying, hoping they would come back to normal in time for the party I was attending that night. They did, but they were bright red.

Now that I’ve stopped being dumb–as this post will attest to–I fully expect to avoid any lectures this opening story might incite from well meaning parents, grandparents, aunts, and Joys, Mollys or Svetlanas. Deal?

MeI’m not sporty, but I am a pretty active human being. I missed running and walking and biking and gardening and the active life Lawrence let me have. I returned to Russia in January knowing I didn’t want to almost lose my hands again. Nor did I want to break something slipping on the ice. Enter winter sports.

Ice Skating

There are a number of places to ice skate in Moscow. Two of the most popular rinks are at Red Square and in Gorky Park. I’m sure that the rink at Red Square is quaint and lovely and historical. You  might even catch Vladimir Putin there since it’s in his backyard and all. SONY DSC

But Gorky Park is awesome. At night, it is all aglow and they pump music and I’m sure that all the teenagers hang out there. It is the largest ice skating rink in Europe.

I went with some professors from NES on a Saturday. It was sunny, but cold cold cold. I didn’t know this until a few months ago, but the sunnier days are colder because the fog traps the warmth and keeps it in. I fight myself on what I want regarding this.SONY DSC

Luckily, the Russians knew it would be cold, so they stayed home. There was almost no line to get skates. Then we skated. That’s it.

Incredibly Expensive Gym Membership–World Class Gym 

Okay, this is not a winter sport. Not at all. I run on a treadmill and lift weights and I will likely start swimming soon. But, it’s a whole new cultural acclimation, mostly because it gives me access to Russian TV, Russian music videos (which are actually white Russian rappers mixed in with Jennifer Lopez and the occasional Will Smith “Men in Black”–yessssssssss!), and Russian radio (which I’ve found is mostly Rhianna and Lady Gaga).

America’s Next Top Model comes on in the mornings; in Russian of course, but fierce knows no language boundary. On weekend mornings I watch Soviet cartoons. And sometimes, the Russian version of Hidden Camera comes on. They don’t really talk, but just make exaggerated hand gestures.  They have about 10 pranks per 30 minute episode. At least two of the pranks involved the prankster having an object (cell phone, notebook, etc) stuck in their butt (I’m serious) and then asking the person being pranked if they’d seen said object. I feel like telling you of the other pranks is completely unnecessary.

And, up until today, I had made no major faux pas at this gym. Apparently I’ve been offending two twins in their mid-fifties by wearing my down coat into the locker room. Ever had a locker room full of Russian women lecture you? Good fun.

The gym is incredibly swanky and if I told you how much it cost, you would be surprised and maybe you would judge me. But, since it’s been blizzarding and hanging out around 15 degrees for the last four days, I’m quite happy.

Broomball

IMG_2770I’ve only played broomball once, so I certainly cannot speak as an authority. It’s basically hockey without skates and a ball instead of a puck. You wear padded pants, padded shorts, knee pads, and elbow pads. You wear an over-sized jersey and if you’re on team U.S.A, it says “Frozen Assets” with a dollar sign in the center. When you only fall five times throughout the course of a game, you will consider yourself incredibly lucky. You will fall on bones and muscles you didn’t know you had. Your neck might be sore from holding up your helmet.

The embassies play broomball every year. The Germans flood two of their tennis courts–and voila–ice. I met up with people outside of the US Embassy, which meant that I had to show my passport after 24 seconds of standing outside the Embassy on the sidewalk (you can’t just stand outside the US Embassy…). When we got to the German Embassy, though, they just let us right in. I didn’t even show my passport. IMG_2772

When I first started putting on my gear, the pair of shorts on load to me had “Bollinger” written inside. I took it as a sign. But they were way too big, so I traded them in.

After we finished getting dressed, we caught the last part of two of the men’s games–Canada versus Russia and Germany versus someone…France? The Canadians were not happy; neither were the Germans.

IMG_2776Then our game started. We played the Finns, who are,  not surprisingly, good at broomball, since it is running on ice and Finland is cold.  I did nothing notable, good or bad.  They kicked our butts.

I would like to go cross country skiing but I’m not sure this will happen. A few Muscovites have encouraged me to buy my own pair of skis. “They’re not expensive,” they insist. What they fail to realize is how small my small apartment really is, that buying a fan at Ашан a few weekends ago and the equipment I acquired this past weekend at broomball has almost put me over the limit of “items for which I have floorspace.” I work endlessly to not acquire things here, and somehow, despite my best efforts, I am acquiring.

back in moscow.

January 15, 2013

Boarding my return flight to Russia was difficult. When I flew into STL mid-December, I knew going back would be hard and I reminded myself to be thankful for my time at home and to be aware of individual days so they wouldn’t pass too quickly. Living abroad has intensified all the idealistic notions I attach to “home.” And this time, home nearly lived up to those notions: my sister baked; grocery stores had sweet potatoes; my family loved their Russian gifts; I drank drip coffee every day; friends were easily accessible by car trips of no more than 7 hours and better yet, these friends existed in 3D; beer tasted like it was from Boulevard; and boyfriend Jack and I doted on each other and hugged a lot.   SONY DSC538054_583015405058097_2090842323_n SONY DSC

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Five hours into my ten hour flight back, though, Moscow became way more appealing. On a long flight, you’ll settle for anywhere that is not your airplane seat. I imagined my small Moscow apartment, wanted nothing more than to curl up in my sofa bed and then later, after a reasonably sized nap, unpack and settle back in.

The only obstacle was getting there with my two pieces of luggage and backpack. I’d taken two suitcases home because I had Christmas presents and because I knew I’d want to bring stuff back from the States (like: a new coat, Vitamin D, new boots, peanut butter). As I’ve mentioned before, Moscow does public transportation well. You can ride the metro to the express train, the express train to the airport; in one hour you’re there, avoiding taxis and traffic.

Getting all this luggage to the airport was no problem because Svetlana and Irina helped. It was nice: Irina + I carted my luggage on the metro and then Sveta met us at the train station. Sveta packed snacks, Ira addressed the letters she asked me to mail in the US and we giggled a lot.

But because Sveta and Ira were both getting back into Moscow around the same time I was and because I don’t yet know enough Russian to order a taxi and negotiate price, I decided to do this express train + metro trip solo.

My flight landed around 11 am Moscow time and I remembered all the snow. Getting my things to the express train was no problem; airports have many luggage carts. And taking the luggage down the escalator into the metro only required balance, which luckily I still had after almost 24 hours of travel. With this particular route, I knew I’d have to navigate three staircases; I hoped they wouldn’t be busy so I could take my time and carry each piece of luggage up individually.

64905_909291515712_1188886701_nWhen I got to the staircase at the transfer between the green line and the orange line, I took a deep breath and stared at the top. Immediately, a man appeared, grabbed the biggest suitcase and asked in Russian if he could carry the bag for me. My excitement and surprise probably made me sound like an idiot: “да да да.” The next set of stairs was at the exit of the platform at my station, Konkovo. This time a woman asked if she could help me. When she asked if she could help me the rest of the way, I shook my head and thanked her, this time using “большое спасибо.” I walked through the metro hall, ignoring all the shops, knowing that nothing in their windows had changed.

I got to the final–and longest–set of stairs, a series of three flights. I carried the biggest suitcase up to the first platform and went back to the bottom to get the smaller suitcase, literally running up them, so happy to be so close to home. A guy grabbed the big suitcase and carried it for me. His friends waited at the top of the stairs; they held the door open for me and smiled.

I’ve been speaking Russian to people, full sentences, not just one or two words. And last night when I paid my rent, landlord Vladimir called me “Karochka,” the pet name for “Kara.” My office has filled with friends every day this week. Russia, you’re not looking too bad.

Greetings from Missouri.

What with the planning and excitement about visiting home and then being home and taking a break from writing, I’ve been absent from the blog-o-sphere.  I imagine you’ve found other things to read on the internet, though. But if you haven’t, here’s a link.

I haven’t posted about writing for quite awhile. Midwestern Gothic is one of my favorite lit journals. The editors work hard to feature the best Midwestern writing and to create a beautiful product, a journal you want to own/hold/read. I first learned of it two years ago, and since then, have been published there twice. Quite a few of my Midwestern friends have been published there too (read: Mary Stone Dockery, Ben Cartwright, Caleb Tankersley, and probably more I’m forgetting).

So, when the editors asked me to answer some questions for the Contributor Spotlight, I said “yes.” You can read that here. You can/should also order a few issues. You’ll be happy you did.

I’ve enjoyed my short break from Russia. However, after my triumphant return next Sunday (!!!), I’m almost certain something write-worthy will happen to me and then I will share it with you.

So, there’s this pool. чайка. It is a heated, outdoor pool. So, when it’s 30 degrees or 15 degrees or below zero or snowing, people can swim. Let me repeat that: I can swim in the snow.Snow

My friend Sveta and I toured the pool a few weeks ago, and since Sveta speaks Russian, she asked both her questions and my questions. I asked if you could swim when it snowed or rained, and the lady responded in Russian: “Even when there is lightening. We don’t care.”

I went back two weeks ago on a Friday night and navigated my way through getting a membership using single Russian words and hand gestures.  I always forget that I don’t know my address until someone asks for it. I know that I need to learn my address; it’s the first thing a person learns in kindergarten. Luckily I had a business card with my work address. I paid. I bought a blue swim cap.

Then I had the medical exam, which is required for almost all gym-like memberships in Russia.

I told the doctor “Я немного говорю по России.” She typed my name into the computer, wrote it on a small sheet of paper, the kind on which we leave notes that aren’t meant to be saved, and sounded it out, using elongated vowels and a soft “g”: Kaara Marrii Bowlinjer. She asked questions slowly in Russian, questions I couldn’t understand. I thought I might not pass.

When she said them in English, they made little sense:

“Do you eat?”

“Yes.”

She put the stethoscope on my back and breathed heavily. I mimicked her.

“When?”

“When do I eat? In the mornings, at lunch, in the evenings.”

“Last time?”

“Oh, 3 pm,” I remembered that rule our moms tells us: wait thirty minutes after eating before going swimming.

“хорошо.”

IMG_2588We sat down again and she asked me more questions in Russian and then stared at me. I laughed, apologized, phoned a friend for a translation. The friend didn’t answer. She mentioned “три” and I thought she was reminding me again that I couldn’t swim 30 minutes after eating.

I said “да, I cannot eat and swim.”

“нет,” she replied and then wrote a date on the bottom of the receipt where she had stamped her medical approval. She read the date to me. It was three months from now. I finally nodded and said “да, да, да,” which is how I’ve come to respond if I think whatever I can’t understand isn’t all that important.  She handed me the stamped receipt and while rubbing her arms in a scrubbing motion said “Wash before pool.”

So, I can breathe. I eat. I wash before pool. I’m in good health. IMG_2542

To get into the pool, you have two options. Walk outside and hop in, which seems like a terrible idea, though lots of old men in speedos do this. Or, swim out from the locker room through this tunnel with a rubber flap that keeps the cold air out. You just swim under and there you are, swimming in lanes, staring at mounds of Russian snow outside the pool.

I strive to be invisible when out and about in Russia. I don’t want to look lost on the metro. I don’t want to look like a tourist in touristy areas.  I don’t want to be noticed by babushkas or predatory men. Normally, I succeed in this. Sometimes, though, I become pretty visible.

IMG_2579On my fifth visit to the pool, I forgot to wash off before getting into the pool. I wasn’t trying to contaminate the highly chlorinated, impossible-to-contaminate pool; I just forgot. As I stepped into the pool, a skinny, naked, sorta sunken-in looking lady yelled at me from her shower stall. I looked at her, squinted my face in confusion, and said that I only spoke a little Russian. She repeated herself. When I still didn’t understand, another woman gave me instructions in Russian and then rubbed her arms in a scrubbing motion. I remembered. I said “да да да спасибо” and washed off. Crisis averted.

Then, after swimming, I went into the sauna. The thing about чайка is that the ladies are all naked. All the time. They do everything naked. I am an awfully modest American, so I change quickly and sorta hide in my locker. Personally, I’m real proud of myself for not just hiding and changing in a bathroom stall like I did the first time I went.

So, the sauna is an especially naked place. Normally I wear my swimsuit and no one says anything, but on this particular night, the women were bossy. They spoke Russian and pointed at my bathing suit. I shook my head, I said I spoke very little Russian. And one woman looked up at me and said, not as a request but a command: “In Russian sauna, everyone undress.”

IMG_2560When my friend Irina came into the sauna, I explained to her what had happened, as if to justify my being topless. I laughed and said “I just didn’t know how to say ‘no.’ This just seemed easier.” Irina only responded with “Kara, you know how to say ‘no.'”