Keep on Rollin’

Posted: June 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

It has been a while, dear readers, and I apologize for being MIA. In my defense, I truly was missing in action. The activity, which has consumed most of my time as of late, was the Test of Russian as a Foreign Language, or the Russian language equivalent of TOEFL. I took this exam on Tuesday and Thursday of last week. In the weeks leading up to the exam, I have been preparing intensely in my Russian class. The week before the exam, I had about three plus hours a day of class time plus an additional hour or two of homework each night. The work paid off, because I passed the test! In some unknown period of time, I will receive a certificate from Moscow, which states that I have a certain level of proficiency in Russian. According to the test itself, I think they claim it to be advanced. Whatever. What’s important is that I will have a piece of paper with a stamp and a signature on it.

The exam itself was not fun to take. It has five parts to it. On the first day, I took three of the parts: grammar, writing, and reading. On the second day, I had speaking and listening. The final subsection of speaking was a ten minute discussion. I was lucky because the first question I was asked was, “What is a topic that you are very interested in?” Clearly my response was Russian cars. Thus, I had a discussion about the development of the Soviet automotive industry in Russian. You know your life is complete when you can say “agrarian nation” and “Five Year Plan” in Russian.

In addition to studying, I have also been having some fun. Two weekends ago, our usual gang headed off to one of the beach areas in the city to celebrate Larissa’s birthday. The spread of food was great (yummy smoked fish, salad, fruit, and my beloved shashliki). We hung around the beach and had a great time. On the evening after my first exam, I went to another friend’s apartment for the birthday of her daughter. We had a tasty dinner and a wonderful cake baked by the hostess herself. Russian hospitality truly is the best in the world. You can never eat enough at their houses.

The first course of the birthday feast. The fish was perfectly smoked and was delightful.

Saturday, the thing that I have been waiting a long time for finally happened. I moved into the apartment that was promised to me in August. When I arrived in September, they told me that there were renovations and that it would probably be done in two months. Basically, after almost ten months (or more?) the apartment was “finished.” I say it this way because despite the major renovations and new furniture, there is still no refrigerator. Furthermore, they have not gotten around the installing the cable for the internet. Thus, I have to use the wifi at the university. All in all, the apartment is spectacular. I have a real bed instead of the thin cloth sack of fibers that I used to sleep on. Also, my neighbors either don’t exist, or the soundproofing here is pretty good. As they say, “Better late than never.”

View from my balcony. The building on the left is the one that I used to live in.

Then, last weekend, I had dinner at the apartment of the new American, Emory, with Iriny and George. We assisted Emory in making an Asian chicken dish. It was comprised of shredded chicken, cucumbers, carrots, and green onions drenched in a yummy, homemade spicy peanut sauce. It was a wonderful dinner and a refreshing change from the usual cuisine here. While I love Russian staples like potatoes, meat, and dumplings, there’s only so much of the same ingredients/flavors that I can stand to constantly eat.

I will never get tired of grilled meat, though.

Sunday morning, I met up with the other American in the city, Nathan. He is in Russia for the summer to learn Russian at my university. I went with him and his girlfriend to the Catholic Church in the city. I didn’t know that it existed. It’s rare to find Catholic churches in Russia, especially out of the major cities. The church is located twenty minutes away from where I live by foot. The church is in a three story residential building in a residential neighborhood. The church is served by three priests, all of whom are from Argentina. There are also three or four nuns at the church. This is a surprisingly large number of clergy for a very small parish. Nathan, the American, told me that there are about 100 people who attend this church. Most of these people are Armenian.

The Mass was very interesting to attend. Before the start of the service, the whole congregation said the Rosary. As expected, the Mass was said in Russian. The translation of the liturgy into Russian must have been made about fifty years ago when the language was switched from Latin to the local language. All of the prayers were in the older forms and the Kyrie was in Greek. Although it was not a High Mass, the service lasted for almost 90 minutes. Following the actual Mass, there was a special procession and Benediction for a feast day. This involved an extra 30 minutes of prayers and kneeling, which was an adventure of sorts. The pews at the church were plain wooden benches and the kneelers were strips of wood. Part of the Benediction procession took us outside of the church, where we kneeled on the brick walkway. After the Mass, we went into the basement of the church to have tea and cookies. It was nice to talk with some of the nuns as well as with the members of the parish.

Later, on Sunday afternoon, I went to the Lenin Memorial with Emory and Iriny. It’s basically the main tourist attraction of the city, so it’s stupid that I have only just been there. When we got there, we somewhat joined a tour being led for some press conference. The tour guide was interesting, and it was clear that he has been working at the memorial for a long time. I was pleasantly surprised by the museum. I expected it to be very boring, but it really had some great exhibits. One funny part of the museum was a display case that had all of the Soviet/Russian leaders from Lenin to Putin; however, there was a curious occurrence. The display made no mention of Konstantin Chernenko, who was the premier of the Soviet Union after Yuri Andropov, but before Mikhail Gorbachev. Poor Chernenko, no one seems to remember him.

How do you forget about the leader of a nation? That would be like saying William Henry Harrison didn’t exist.

Some of the displays in the museum included a series of different sized statues of Lenin, made out of different materials. There were also vases with Lenin’s face. At one point, there was a model of the Mausoleum in Moscow. They also had a death mask, as well as one of the hands, of Lenin. In case you can’t venture to Moscow to see dead Lenin, you can stare at a creepy version of his face and hands at the memorial. There was a pretty cool statue of Lenin in front of the Soviet globe with the hammer and sickle. The whole display was cool because it had Marx’s famous line, “Workers of the world unite” written in the 15 different languages of each of the republics of the Soviet Union.

Workers of the world unite!

The pièce de résistance of the memorial was a carpet that had Lenin in the center with a series of socialist realism motifs including what seemed to be nuclear scientists.

I really, really want to own this rug.

On Monday, I had yet another very awesome adventure. Along with most of my friends who work at the international department of the university, we went to a rock festival called “Rock on the Volga,” which was located near the city of Samara. I got up at 5 something in the morning to be at the entrance of Park Pobedi (Victory Park) by 6AM, located about a thirty minute walk from where I live. We made the drive in a rented minibus very quickly and were fairly close to the front of the line to get into the concert. Thus, we were fairly close up. Sadly, we weren’t super close, but in retrospect, we had a great location. There were over 225,000 people at the festival, so being in the first section of the field was great. The festival was 12 groups in 12 hours – 11.00AM to 11.00PM. Most of the groups were Russian, of which I only really know one group, Leningrad, thanks to a tutor from St. Petersburg who shared my taste in music.

Leningrad.

One of the acts that I was most excited for was the French singer Zaz. I really love French gypsy jazz, ala Django Reinhardt, and she has a minimally pop, modern interpretation of this style. Her songs are infectiously catchy. She played a couple of my favorite songs as well as some new songs and a cover of “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters. Zaz was really energetic and it was funny because she doesn’t speak any Russian and it’s clear that she also doesn’t really speak any English. She had a sheet of phrases written in Russian to read to the crowd, but she spent most of her time speaking in French and occasionally shouting “Everybody” instead of “Tout le monde.” I feel accomplished because I can understand a crazy French singer’s shouts to the audience after six plus years of French. There was a funny moment when she shouted, “How many of you understand me?” The set was awesome, but the whole crowd wasn’t into it. There were a decent number of happy people, but it’s clear that Zaz’s style didn’t really fit in a rock festival.

Zaz being awesome.

Another act that I was excited for was the group Garbage. They did the title song for the 1999 Bond film “The World is Not Enough.” It was a mediocre film at best, but the song was pretty decent. I also like a number of their other songs. Their lead singer also doesn’t know any Russian. She could say “hello” and “thank you.” At one point, she said, “As you can tell, my Russian is sh*t, so I hope you don’t mind that I speak to you in Scottish.” Garbage played an awesome set that the crowd seemed to like.

Garbage.

The headline act of the night was a surprise to me. I didn’t realize that Limp Bizkit was still a band. They were most popular in America roughly 10 years ago. The crowd went nuts for Limp Bizkit. They were pretty good, but the show was a bit of a cop out. There were very long breaks in between each song. Then, on top of the breaks of nothing but darkness on the stage, each song was preceded by Fred Durst saying various expletives and clowning around. I assume that was the main attraction of this foreign group to the Russians. Even for people who don’t speak any English at all, it’s clear that they understand curses. Durst’s favorite word starts with F and rhymes with duck. Every time he randomly uttered this, the crowd cheered. The set was both awesome and slightly annoying, because while all of the hits were played, they were played throughout the act. “Rollin’” was the second song that was played. “My Way,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and “Break Stuff” were also played during the act. Sadly, “Nookie” was not played. I guess it was disappointing because one of the major hits was not the last song of the night, so the end wasn’t quite as powerful as it could have been.

Fred Durst and Limp Bizkit do still exist.

After Limp Bizkit, we wandered around through the parking lot attempting to find our minibus. Then, we got back to Ulyanovsk around 3AM and I walked back to my apartment, most of the way with a friend named Roman, who lives nearby. I got back to the apartment building around 3.30 and woke up the babushka. Clearly, the babushka from the morning before forgot to tell her that I would arrive early the next morning because when she opened the door, she made a comment about it being light already outside. Then, I stumbled into bed for one of the best night’s sleep ever.

Group of some of the coolest people ever at one of the coolest places ever. Russian friends are awesome.

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