C is for Cookies

Posted: May 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

I have less than a month left in Russia. This is a very scary thought. At this moment, I feel divided. I am sad about the prospect of my time here coming to a close. I have a comfortable life here, and I have fun every day. However, I strongly miss my family, more so now than ever before. As usual, I’m craving a good New York style extra-cheese pizza. I also want Root Beer and Doctor Pepper. I miss my stuff polar bear, Mr. Polar Bear, as well as my car. I have been re-watching a series of Mercedes videos on youtube just to enjoy the wonderful sound of the Mercedes OM603 diesel engine. 6 cylinders of turbo-charged goodness make me happy.

As it stands, there are a few very important things going on in Ulyanovsk at the moment, and I am still going on adventures any chance that I get. Firstly, another American has come to the city to teach at the Simbirsk Resource Center, aka the private language school where I hang out from time to time. I was awaiting his arrival for months. Originally, the plan was for him to come in February, but thanks to the wonderful thing that is Russian visa bureaucracy, he didn’t arrive until last week. We have been in communication via email and facebook since January, and it was nice to finally meet him in person. It’s oddly refreshing and strange at the same time to have another American here. His presence proved to be quite useful at my regular Saturday night barbeque shindig at Vadim and Lena’s. After promising for a while, I finally made chocolate chip cookies. There was only a slight issue. While I remembered to bring baking soda, vanilla extract, and Ghirardelli chocolate chips, I forgot to bring a set of measuring cups with me. Eyeballing quantities for baking is not a good idea. The batter was a little too runny, so the cookies were a little thin, but they still tasted awesome. I still have more cookies to bake for people at the university, but I need to track down a working oven first. I suppose I could bake more cookies at Vadim and Lena’s, but I have the feeling that they would be devoured before I could take some home with me.

The night would only have been better if there were milk to go with the cookies.

On Saturday, I met up with one of the German teachers from my department again. She was eager to show me the Orthodox church near her house. I readily agreed to her offer to take me there after a discussion we had at her apartment one night about Orthodox churches and Orthodox church art. Since my time in St. Petersburg, I have greatly appreciated the awe inspiring interiors of Russian Orthodox churches. This was only enhanced by the course in Byzantine Art that I took my senior year of college. I am ashamed to say that I forgot a good deal of what I learned when it comes to reading iconography, but I can still understand some of it. The church was built fairly recently, since basically everything connected with religion was destroyed during the Soviet period. You can’t have churches in the hometown of Lenin in an atheistic state. The inside of the church was wooden and it had a surprisingly large number of old icons. By chance, we were there around the start of the service. We had not planned that, we just noticed a lot of people arriving whilst we looked at the icons. We decided to stay for the first ten minutes of the service, which was quite beautiful. One of the special features of the church, according to the German teacher, is the professional choir that accompanies the service. While I understood nothing of what was said, the language of the Russian Orthodox Church is Slavonic—a very ancient form of Russian—I still found it to be a very spiritual experience. I imagine this service to be similar to the Latin Catholic service of years ago. The service started with the chiming of the main church bell, followed by many other bells for about a minute. Then, the iconostasis was opened and the priests came out. One of the first things that the priest did was to walk about the church, saying prayers at the various icons whilst burning incense.

The nice little church that we went to.


After going to the church, I went to Vadim and Lena’s for the barbeque with a whole bunch of friends including the new American. That’s where I baked the cookies. Once our night was over, a few of us walked one member of the group home to her nearby apartment. This was past the jail, which I have wanted to take a photo of for a long time. Specifically, I wanted a photo of a funny sign that translates to “We are building for you.” Given its placement on the side of the jail, it is as if they are saying that they are building the jail for us. The moment was right and the photo was taken, which was awesome. I kept wanting to take a photo of it as I walked past the building after Tae Kwon Do, but this is now their time for prisoner transfers. As I walk past after practice, there are many trucks, guards with AKs, and German Shepherds around the building. I figured that is not the right time to take a photo.

“We are building for you!” Are they implying that I will at some point in time wind up in a correctional facility? Given my love of scheming and unethical behavior, they might be making a good prediction.

There are two other major developments in my life at the moment. Supposedly, on the 4th of June, there will be furniture in my long promised apartment. It seems that I will be able to move to the apartment on that day. However, it is not entirely complete. There are some things that will not be 100% done in the kitchen.While I am excited to finally get my apartment, I am also a little sad. I really like my neighbors (when they aren’t shouting or playing loud music, so like 10% of the time). Furthermore, I have finally befriended the babushki who act as security guards for the building. They control the 11PM curfew and lock the front door at that time (fire safety doesn’t exist in Russia). They now let me come home whenever I want, so long as I ask in advance. Also, when I happen to run 20 or 30 minutes late due to waiting for a marshrutki or a taxi, they open the door without yelling at me. Maybe it’s because I always say, “thank you” when they open the door for me. Due to the good weather, I have been returning just at, or a little bit after, curfew most nights. This prompted one babuska to ask me if I was returning from work. If walking around the city and having fun counts as work, then yes, I have a lot of work every night. Sadly, in the new building, I will have a new set of babushki to befriend. This is not an easy task.

An example of Russian fire safety. Someone on the floor has a key to the lock and will supposedly open it in the case of a fire. I should really ask for hazardous duty pay for my job.

Additionally, on the 5th and the 7th, I will be taking the Test of Russian as a Foreign Language. I have basically spent my months here learning Russian in preparation for this exam. At the moment, I have been doing practice exams and trying to cram as many pieces of vocabulary and grammar exceptions into my head as possible.
On a last note, someone in Russian has decent taste in music. Usually, I am surrounded by terrible techno and trance at an unreasonably loud volume. Today, though, while riding on the marshrutka, the guy next to me was listening to Ratatat. Namely, he was listening to one of my favorite songs by them, “Loud Pipes.” Ratatat was basically the soundtrack to Tae Kwon Do my freshman year of college. Fittingly, I was on the marshrutka going to Tae Kwon Do practice when this happened. In short, it put me in a really good mood.

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