Archive for November, 2011

I found a bear!

Posted: November 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

Mother Russia has decided that I am an invader and is doing her best to freeze me to death. Dear Russia, I am not bent on conquering you, please warm up a little. Actually, it’s not that bad yet, but I’m worried about when it will hit-40 (that’s when the two temperature scales converge, so I don’t need to specify Fahrenheit or Celsius) as this is the city of the seven winds. Once you factor in the wind chill the temperature will be an approximate really effing cold.

Thanksgiving in Russia wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Not being home, I really could not care less about the holiday. I almost forgot that it existed. I also treated myself. Near my dormitory there is a little stand that sells roasted chicken and Caucasian bread called lavash. It wasn’t quite turkey and stuffing, but it was a nice dinner. Sadly, I did not know of the existence of this place until a few days ago. When one of my students told me about it, I was quite surprised and happy, then sad because I have been cooking for myself when I could have been feasting on yummy roast chicken. The same student later told me that I can also get delivery food to my dormitory including shashlik (kebabs) and sushi. I doubt I will do much cooking in the future. I think I have found my new version of Wok n Roll and Taco Express, except that these places do not serve Chinese or Mexican food. I can also get pizza, but I still have issues calling the product that is served in Russia “pizza.” Don’t get me wrong, it tastes good, but I have an obsession with a good New York style pizza. I guess you get spoiled when you come from a suburb of NYC.

In other news, my Russian class keeps getting better and better. For the literature portion, I am now reading “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkiban.” I’m so happy that my teacher caters to my interests. It makes up for the annoying grammar books that I have to use, which are very boring. I’m still reading one book and an article about the Russian automotive industry before 1917. This is still not the time period of my interest, but I’m now finding more sources in Russian, which supported my thesis research. There really was no indigenous Russian automotive industry. The automotive firms before 1917 really just assembled foreign vehicles under license in Russia. I also had a huge nerd moment when one of the teachers in the department brought me a few old copies of the Russian magazine “За Рулем” (Behind the Wheel). I didn’t know the publication still existed. When I was doing my thesis research, I saw many references to issues from the 1930s.

Harry Potter and car magazines. What more could I need to be happy? They all have Mercedes on the covers!

And, once again, I had an awesome weekend in Ulyanovsk. On Friday night, I went to the movies with two of my students and their friend. We went to see the film “Immortals,” which I expected to be terrible. I was pleasantly entertained and happy that I understood what was going on in the film. Although, one’s Russian doesn’t have to be great to understand stabbing and fighting. The more fight scenes, the better, because that’s less dialogue for me to have to understand.

Saturday, I went to the resource center and once again headed out with George, Julia, and Irene after class. We tried to get into the new Irish pub in town, but there was no space, so we went to a coffee shop next door. After sitting and talking for a while, we walked Irene to the bus stop and then strolled around the overlook of the Volga. The view of the bridges and the other side of the city at night is simply beautiful. The shrubs spelling out Lenin are also nice to view now that they are surrounded by snow.

Night by the Volga.

While walking through the streets, we saw a poster announcing the concert for the Belorussian ska/punk/rock group Ляпис Трубецкой (Lyapis Trubetskoy) that I love. They’ve gotten into trouble recently in their home country for critiquing the government in their lyrics. They also have some of the coolest music videos ever. Here’s a clip for their song Capital with English subtitles (and German).

We went to the major shopping mall in the center to inquire about the tickets for the concert. The contract with the club and the place selling the tickets had run out, but was supposed to be renewed on Monday (maybe) so I’m not sure about actually going to the concert at the moment, but I’m pretty sure that at least two of us will go provided we can get tickets.

The mall was an adventure after 10PM. On the main floor of the shopping mall there is a coffee bar in the center open space, which turns into a pseudo-night club later in the evening. It was playing the obligatory house music that Russians seem to really love. There was also one go-go dancer. I thought those went out of fashion in the 1970s, but maybe that’s naïve me who never has been to a club. After leaving the mall we went off to investigate a display of large toy animals in front of the adjacent building. Naturally, I had to have my photo taken with the polar bear. Please note that this is the only bear that I have seen in Russia this year.

I will always love polar bears. I can't wait to be reunited with my beloved Mr. Polar Bear when I go home.

We checked the time and realized it was 10:15PM. I have a slight problem in that the dormitory has a curfew of 11:00PM. Generally, I can get permission to stay out later, but I have to ask the woman by the door in advance. I didn’t think that I would be out so late, so I didn’t ask her earlier. We decided to go to the Irish pub to try it and then we would call a taxi and hopefully I would get to the dormitory in time. The pub was fun. In an odd episode of multiculturalism it seems that if I want to enjoy a German Weißbier in Russia, I must go to an Irish pub. Also, the Irish would be very upset because the Russian bar tender did not properly pour the Guinness. After quickly enjoying our drinks, we called a taxi. I arrived at the dormitory maybe two minutes past curfew, but there were thankfully no problems. All in all, it was an awesome evening and we made plans to meet up again later in the week to get dinner at the former Subway (now known as Manhattan because they could no longer afford the franchising) and to head to the pub again when it is less crowded.

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Food: Return of the Hot Sauce

Posted: November 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

Thanksgiving is apparently on Thursday. The thought did not cross my mind until I was talking with my parents on skype last night. They wished me a happy Thanksgiving, but then told me that they wouldn’t call me on Thursday since it’s just a regular day for me. Thanks parents, way to make me feel special. This is the first year in my life that I will not have celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents. It is a somewhat sad occasion as I am a self-proclaimed food lover. If you know me, you know my greatest love is food (with Mercedes coming in at a close second). Thanksgiving is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, holidays of the year as it is devoted solely to eating. I love goring myself on turkey, stuffing, potatoes (well, really the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes), apple cider, apple pie, and pumpkin pie. I also love the following days of leftovers. I may not be able to stuff myself on homemade goodness in Russia, but I can ramble about the food here.

I was in the store the other day buying my groceries. Amongst my products, I was getting soy sauce in an attempt to add some flavor to some of the foods that I have been cooking (read: I need new ways of flavoring my potatoes). The woman behind me in line then started to talk to me. She noticed my bottle of soy sauce and told me that she first thought it was some sort of strange alcohol–it’s Russia, apparently I’m supposed to buy hard alcohol at 10AM–but then realized that the bottle said it was some kind of sauce. She then asked if it was very spicy. I wish. One of the things that I have missed most about America is hot sauce, specifically a good buffalo sauce. Upon arriving at home, I will demand a feast of American pizza and buffalo wings.

I was discussing the lack of spicy foods with my Russian professor and she recommended some Georgian and Armenian sauces to try. I got one at the store.  The jar says that it is for lovers of hot experiences and has a name that basically translates to “fire sauce.”

Flavorful, but not spicy enough.

While it contains some punch, it is nowhere near as spicy as I would like. I used to bring my own hot sauce to Friday buffalo wing day at Marquis because their “suicide” sauce was too mild for my taste.

I used to carry this around with me. Thanks Jenn.

Yesterday was my third venture to Tae Kwon Do in Russia. Unfortunately, my schedule somewhat conflicts with me frequently going to Tae Kwon Do, but hopefully I can change that next semester. This was the first excellent class that I have had because I’m starting to get back into the swing of things. I nearly died during the first class and during the second class I couldn’t do much because I hadn’t properly stretched before and after the first class, resulting in really tight hamstrings. For a while after the second class, I thought I might have torn one of my hamstrings because it was incredibly painful to walk. Luckily, my schedule forced me to rest and it seems that no major damage was done. I have a bad habit of pushing injuries too far at Tae Kwon Do. Today I survived with only two popped blisters on my toes. One blister bled and another blood blister has formed on my other toe. I consider blood or bruises to be signs of a training session well done. As the Marines say, “pain is weakness leaving the body.”
At yesterday’s practice, I was the only female. Usually I am joined by my friend who introduced me to this Tae Kwon Do club, but she couldn’t make it. I’m proud of myself of successfully finding the gym on my own. The directions are pretty simple: take the 71 marshrutka to the avtozapchast stop. The people at the university told me that it was the second stop after crossing a bridge. I just waited until I saw the bridge and then asked the man next to me how far away from the stop we were. Thankfully, he was nice and told me to get off at the right place. The next stop is to cross six lanes of traffic (thankfully there’s a crosswalk and a median after the first three lanes), then you need to cross the tramvai tracks, and finally another two lanes of automotive traffic before you find yourself on the sidewalk. Then, you walk down a somewhat sketchy and dark sidewalk until you find an alley with aboveground pipes. Upon reaching this landmark, hang a left. The gym is a few doors down on the left.

The second, smaller gym. I'm more used to training in a space like this.

The real importance of today’s practice was a lesson in Russian hospitality. When the lesson was over, I asked the instructor, Natalia Vladimirovna, how much I should pay for the training. I was incredibly surprised when she said that she did not want any money from me. She told me that I’m a guest in Ulyanovsk and that money doesn’t matter. She also understands that I have a somewhat crazy teaching schedule, so it’s okay if I have difficulties attending class on a regular basis. After I thanked her profusely in Russian and Korean, she asked me where I lived and how I was getting home. I told her that I was taking the marshrurtka and she responded that she would drive me home tonight, which was incredibly nice and she lives in the exact opposite direction of the university. During the ride, Natalia Vladimirovna told me that she wants to practice her English with me because she travels a lot for Tae Kwon Do. I told her that we would work on English and that I would teacher her all of the Tae Kwon Do terminology in English if she taught me in Russian.

While riding home, she asked me about my family. I got the usual question of, “how did your parents feel about you going to Russia for a year?” As always, I respond that my parents are very happy that I’m here. Although we miss each other very much, they’re proud and supportive of my accomplishments. I also mentioned that my parents are planning on visiting in March, when my dad has spring break from his teaching duties. Natalia Vladimirovna was surprised that they want to come to Ulyanovsk. I told her that they have already been to Moscow and St. Petersburg, a few times each in the deep of the Soviet period and two years ago when I studied in St. Petersburg. They both really want to see a city other than the two capitals of Russia. Upon hearing this news, Natalia Vladimirovna told me that my family and I must come to her house as guests and that she will prepare a dinner for us. I’ve only met this woman three times and she’s already invited me and my family to her home. This just shows how generous Russians are. Although they seem cold at first, partly because they don’t greet or smile at strangers, they very quickly welcome you after making first contact. Russian hospitality has no rivals.

In a funny conclusion to this story, my ride home only took about ten minutes. This is not because Natalia Vladimirovna was driving quickly, it was quite the opposite actually. I was surprised at how cautious a driver she was given the way that Russians seem to usually drive (read: with flagrant disregard of posted speed limits and the laws of physics). When I take the marshrutka to or from this particular location, of which there is only one from my university that I can take, it takes half an hour to get to the proper stop. This is because the route for the 71 marshrutka seems to go through every single side street in the entire city.

A Trip to a Lenin Museum

Posted: November 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

I went on an awesome adventure throughout the city of Ulyanovsk today. I met up with two English students from the private language school. The day before, Saturday, I went to their class and then had dinner with them, their teacher, and another teacher from the school. Sushi makes me happy. Also, it was a meal that I didn’t cook for myself and that didn’t come from the university cafeteria, aka it was awesome.

We met up this afternoon and strolled through parts of the center of the city. The first thing we saw was the monument to the Russian writer Goncharov, who wrote the novel “Oblomov.” In a park in the center of the city is a statue to Goncharov. In the novel, Oblomov spends most of his time on his couch and with his slippers. Thus, the monument to the novel is a couch with a set of slippers that you can put your feet in.

I love sitting on couches.

We headed off to Lenin Street with the intention of going to one of Lenin’s houses. Lenin’s house on Lenin Street, who would have thought that would belong there? Our first stop was a free art museum on Lenin Street, which had an exhibition on mannerism. Basically, they were poorly printed posters of Italian and Spanish artists such as El Greco and Parmigianino (good thing I took that art history course at Lafayette). While walking through the exhibit with George and Julia, we were speaking in English. There was a man there with his young son and he got a little confused by us speaking English. He asked if we were Russian and George explained that they were Russian, but that they were speaking English with me because I’m from America. The man got a little excited and asked me why I was in Russia and shook my hand. His roughly eight-year-old son said hello to me in English. Unfortunately, the father reeked of cigarettes and alcohol. At least his father was spending time with him and taking him to a museum, though. The father also said that I should go and teach English and the son’s school, which the governor of the region apparently attended.

From the art museum, we headed to Lenin’s house. The museum had various prices for admittance. For students with IDs, the entrance fee is 30 rubles, or roughly $1. Julia and George didn’t have their IDs with them, but I had mine with me. I’ve been through these situations in St. Petersburg before, so I knew not to say a word. Instead, I just showed my ID and handed over the money. This is because the entrance fee for foreigners is something like 500 rubles. If you just keep your mouth shut, the don’t know you’re a foreigner and don’t charge you extra. Another miraculous thing happened when we were buying the tickets. As I said, George and Julia didn’t have their student IDs with them, but the woman said that they believed that they were students and charged them the student rate.

The Lenin house museum was pretty cool, as those sorts of museums go. After taking off our coats, we proceeded to the first part of the exhibit. It was apparently an exhibit on people visiting the museum. For the most part, this was pretty lame, but Julia showed me a really interesting photo from the Soviet times. As this was a house that Lenin lived in, lines to get into the museum used to be massive. People would wait for hours just to see some chairs and tables that Lenin may or may not have touched.

The line for the Lenin house museum in the 1970s.

The best part of the exhibit was a cute cat that was sitting on a sofa by the radiator. The rest of the house was pretty standard for these types of museums. There was period furniture that may or may not have actually belonged to the family. Taking photos of the rest of the exhibit was forbidden unless you paid extra money, which I didn’t feel like doing. Throughout the rooms, a scary woman who worked in the museum sometimes followed us. She keep appearing around corners and hovering to make sure that we didn’t disfigure any of their precious beds, chairs, or books.

Lenin's cat?

The Lenin museum also had a really cool backyard and series of other buildings to look at from the outside, including a gazebo of sorts. We were wandering around the grounds, unsure of where we were and were not supposed to go. At one point, we went through a door and wound up in an alley of sorts, which was fine until we had to run away from a dog and shut the door behind us. After that, we decided to move on from the Lenin museum. We headed off to an area behind the photography museum, which had another gazebo and some fun wooden stuff to play on like a swing, a bridge, and a few benches.

Julia and George having fun.

We then headed off on a walk through more of the city. George is a medical student. He goes to the other university in the city, Ulyanovsk State University. The medical school is in its own building, a former nunnery, which is somewhat gothic and creepy looking. It got creepier when he told us that they practice anatomy lessons in the basement on cadavers and that there are giant barrels in the anatomy rooms filled with body parts.

George and the medical school.

We headed off to the main campus of the Ulyanovsk State University and walked around. There’s a free ice rink at the university, not that we needed a rink since everything was covered with ice today and it was an effort not to slip and die everywhere we went. The state university looks out on the other river in the city, the Sviyaga. The river had already frozen over and there were various people out fishing on the ice. After wandering around in the cold for a while, we decided to head into a nice student café to get some food and warm drinks. After our dinner, we waited for a while in the cold for the correct marshrutka to take us all back to our various destinations.

In other news, I found out on Saturday, at the language school, that I’m not the only American in Ulyanovsk. There are apparently two Mormon missionaries in the city. While I was with George, Julia, and their teacher, the Mormons came and spoke to Lana’s class. I’m somewhat unsure if I want to meet the Mormons. On one hand, it would be nice to see what other Americans have to say about Ulyanovsk. On the other hand, I don’t know if I would really get along very well with the Mormons. I don’t know how they feel about Catholics. I’m also pretty sure they’re not too fond of drinking, swearing, or materialism.

Finally, the neighbors in the dorm are getting somewhat annoying. The 18 year old boys I share my bathroom with have started to decorate it with cutouts from Playboy. What do I notice about the pictures? There’s some naked chick ruining perfectly good photos of a BMW M3. I guess she spent all of her money on the autobahn beast and has no money left for even a potato sack with which to clothe herself. Furthermore, I have been treated to all sorts of wonderful house/techno remixes of songs I normally like thanks to their speakers and subwoofer. The funny song from today is that somebody has made a remix of when Putin sang the American country song “On Blueberry Hill.” For those of you who missed it, here’s a video of Putin’s rendition.

And for those of you who are into techno, here’s the remix.

FIRST SNOW, HUZZAH!

Posted: November 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

Finally, we got our first snow here in Ulyanovsk. I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. I especially wanted the snow because it had already snowed at home and at Lafayette. Cold weather doesn’t bother me so long as there is snow. I have been in a great mood the last few days, all because of the snow. I woke up on  Tuesday morning to see snow flakes drifting through the air and lightly dusting the group. Then, after a day of lessons, I left the university with a few friends. As soon as I stepped outside into the snow, I had a huge smile on my face and I was jumping around like an idiot. Conversely, the Russians all let out sighs of regret. Call me slightly insensitive, but this only made me laugh and smile more. Then they just gave me weird looks, but it’s okay, I’m used to getting weird looks like that all the time at home. I’m comfortable with being awkward.

Snow isn’t anything new to me, I just regress to a childlike state every time it snows. I guess snow has always had a positive connotation in my subconscious. Snow always meant delays or school cancellations. Snow meant playing outside with my dad and brother while mom looked on from the windows. Snow meant sledding and snowball fights. Snow also meant going skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing with my family.

Snow makes me happy. Throwing snow balls makes me happier.

I was making dinner later that same night when a few of my neighbors got excited. As they are from Turkmenistan, and one of their friends is from Dagestan, snow isn’t as common a feature in their lives. They said they were going out to take photos and to play in the snow. Naturally, I had to join them. We played around for a few minutes before they got cold and wanted to go back inside.

I love my neighbors, well except for when they play really loud house/trance/electro music but c'est la vie in Russia.

The snow situation here and back home is somewhat funny for me. Here I am, living in a smaller and lesser known city in Russia. I was talking to my parents and brother on skype a few days ago. After the snow in Connecticut, a place that regularly gets more than 6 inches of snow at a time in the winter, my family was without power for about 12 hours. They were lucky. A week later, a good portion of the town was still without power. We had a similar situation after Hurricane Irene. Part of the difficulty of being without power where I come from is that the majority of the houses have well water. This means that when there is no power, there is no water in the house. I’m living in Russia, a country that is sometimes ridiculed in the West for its standards of living; however, I am living far better than the majority of the people in one of the richest areas of America. I have always had power here. We have also always had water here, and except for one week of routine maintenance, we have always had hot water. This wasn’t a problem as I lived for almost three weeks without hot water in St. Petersburg. Usually, the hot water is clean too. Sometimes it comes out reddish/brownish, and on those days I decide that I can brave a cold shower. It builds character, or so I like to tell myself.

Concert

Posted: November 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

Last night, I had one of the best nights yet in Ulyanovsk. I went to a concert at a club with three of my friends from the university. We went to see the group Sunsay, which was really special for me. I don’t remember how I came across them, but about two years ago I got really into the Russian/Ukrainian rap/rock/reggae/acoustic group 5’Nizza. The group’s name is a play on the Russian word пятница (pyatnitsa), which means Friday. The music of 5’Nizza provided the soundtrack for the fall semester of my junior year of college. I’m pretty sure that the majority of my 30-page research paper on desertion from the Russian army during the First World War was written while I listened to 5’Nizza. I also definitely listed to 5’Nizza from time to time while working on my thesis, although I tended to listen more to movie soundtracks while writing it.

5’Nizza was made up of two guys, Sergei Babkin and Andrei Zaporozhets. The group broke up a few years ago and both guys went on to form other acts. Andrei Zaporozhets’s new group is called Sunsay. I was really excited to go to the concert because I heard that Sunsay sometimes plays some 5’Nizza songs.

The performance was great. Zaporozhets sang and was backed up by a five member band. There were the standard members of bass, rhythm, and lead guitars as well as a drummer. The fifth member was somewhat out of place for rock concerts. He was basically a wood-wind player. He jumped around from various instruments from bagpipes, recorders, and flutes to the clarinet. At one point, he did a really cool trick where he played two recorders at the same time. The guitarists made me happy with their choice of instruments and effects. The lead guitarist played a Fender Telecaster and the rhythm guitarist played a Gibson RD. Call me predictable and a conformist, but I’m a fan of Gibson and Fender solid-body electric guitars. They used a range of effects including a wah-wah pedal, which always makes me happy. At one point in the show, I’m pretty sure they used a pre-recorded bass track. The bassist was playing an acoustic guitar accompanied only by drums and solos from the lead guitar. You may have fooled the majority of the audience, but you can’t get tricks like that past me.

I was really impressed with all of the Sunsay songs. I was slightly bummed, though, that they didn’t play any 5’Nizza music despite chants from the crowd to do so. The band left the stage, but came back for a brief encore of two songs. The lead singer said that he wanted to sing his new material, so he sang another one of his songs. After it was over, the crowd once again started chanting for the group to do 5’Nizza songs, especially one of my favorite songs called Нева, or Neva. Thankfully, though, the group gave in and played the 5’Nizza song Солдат, or Soldier. It was a perfect end to a perfect evening.

As we waited to get out coats after the concert, someone kept playing one of the songs from Amélie on a slightly out of tune old piano. It somewhat reminded me of Yankee Stadium where they play the Liza Minnelli version of New York, New York when the team loses instead of the Frank Sinatra version. While I normally really enjoy that particular song, I don’t like it played improperly on an out of tune piano for fifteen minutes at a time. Oddly enough, it seems that the music from Amélie is somewhat popular in Russia. A few hours ago, my neighbor was listening to a rap remix of another piece from the Amélie soundtrack. That’s another fun development in my life. My neighbors have just acquired a set of speakers and a subwoofer. I now get to enjoy all the house/trance music I can stand, which is not much. I would be much happier if they listened to Daft Punk or Depeche Mode instead.

James Bond and Epiphanies

Posted: November 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

On Halloween, I met a new group of students today. We were doing a unit on movies, which prompted my love of James Bond to come up. I’ve seen all 22 of the official MGM-UA films many times (I pretend that the David Niven Casino Royale, the Woody Allen Casino Royale, and the 1980s remake of Thunderball — Never Say Never Again — do not exist). Goldfinger is clearly the best Bond film ever. It has the best villains (trivia fact – Gert Fröbe , who played Goldfinger, couldn’t actually speak English, so all of his lines are dubbed). It has some of the best dialogue (“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”). It has the best soundtrack, composed by John Barry who did the soundtracks for fourteen Bond films. It also has the best car, the 1964 Aston Martin DB5, complete with a passenger ejector seat. If you ask me why I hate the new Casino Royale, it’s partially because James Bond drives a left-hand drive Aston Martin DB5. James Bond is only allowed to drive a right-hand drive DB5.

1964 Aston Martin DB5. The only car James Bond should drive.

I always mention that Goldeneye is one of my favorite Bond films, probably my third favorite Bond film after 1964’s Goldfinger and 1973’s Live and Let Die. Goldeneye also places in my top five favorite movies of all time. I never get tired of rewatching it. The dialogue in the film is witty and highly quotable. “A tip for your friend: the French number plates for this year’s model start with ‘L.’ Even the counterfeit ones.” The DB5 also makes a wonderful appearance towards the beginning of the movie on the mountain roads of Monaco. It’s always best when a 1960s sports car defeats an ugly 1990s Ferrari in a race.  I’m also quite addicted to the N64 videogame that came out a few years after the movie.

My real love of Goldeneye partially lies in the scene in which Pierce Brosnan drives a tank through St. Petersburg. I always tell my students that I like Pierce Brosnan (he’s not my favorite Bond though, that would be Roger Moore), St. Petersburg, and tanks. Thus, Goldeneye is a great movie because it combines three of my interests in one excellent scene. Everything about the scene is just perfect. The evil Russian general drinks under pressure and shouts one of the best lines ever, “Use bumper, that’s what it’s for.” Scarily, I think that’s what most Russian drivers think. Here’s a link to the scene in case you’ve lived under a rock your whole life and haven’t seen it, or in case you realize how awesome it is and want to watch it again.

Unfortunately, they didn’t really drive the tank through the streets of St. Petersburg. Most of it was filmed on a back lot at England’s Pinewood Studios because the Russians were worried that the weight of the tank would break the streets and the pipes underneath the streets. While envisioning the scene in my head, I remembered that Bond is chased by a series of Russian soldiers in jeeps. It was a eureka moment for me as I realized that those jeeps are UAZ 469s. It seems once again that I was truly fated to spend my year in Ulyanovsk. Moments like these get me very excited.

No Mercedes were harmed in the making of this production, but a whole bunch of Ladas and UAZs were.

In all seriousness, Goldeneye is quite an interesting movie when looking at Russian history. It was filmed in 1994/1995 and released Thanksgiving 1995. During this time period, Russia was in pretty dire straits following the Soviet collapse. Poverty and crime were rampant. In the Bond film, St. Petersburg is somewhat grey and dirty, but much of the grit of the time period was absent from the film. There is a Russian film Брат, or Brother, which was made in 1997. In this film, the entirety of St. Petersburg comes across as 1970s Harlem. The area of St. Petersburg I lived in was basically a crack den, according to the film. In fact, there is a murder attempt made on the main character at the doors of a building that I passed on my bus ride to school. Here’s the trailer for Брат. It’s in Russian, without subtitles, but it’s worth a watch to see what Russia was like in the 1990s. 

In the past few years, Russia has truly come a long way. St. Petersburg seemed somewhat cleaner when I was there. Furthermore, both films are filled with Soviet cars, mostly Lada Zhigulis. While these cars are still abundant in Russia, there are plenty of other foreign cars on the roads. This is especially the case in St. Petersburg, though I see plenty of foreign cars in Ulyanovsk as well.

And in case you’re wondering, this is what I do when I should be doing my Russian homework. I would much rather write about cars in James Bond movies than read about the Russian automobile industry before 1917. I’m glad that my Russian professor found books and materials for me about the Russian automotive industry, but I really am only interested in the Soviet automotive industry and technology trade with Western nations. The only thing about the pre-1917 industry was that it was almost non-existent, which is why the Soviets had to heavily rely on foreign assistance in the 1930s.