Archive for September, 2016

Dear readers, in case you were wondering, I am not dead. I’ve just been busy with research and a wave of additional bureaucratic hurdles to overcome. Until I receive my multi-entry visa and have my passport returned to me, I will be unable to work out of The State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) or register for any others that I want to use. Currently all I have on me is a copy of my passport and a note that says my passport it as the Federal Migration Service. When I tried to show this to the woman at the ID office at GARF upon returning from Ulyanovsk, she refused to give me my ID until I get my passport back. Thus, for the next two and a half weeks I’m confined to working that the Military Archive (RGVA), where I received my year long ID on my first day.

GARF's new sign. At least I think it's new?

GARF’s new sign. At least I think it’s new?

Being confined to RGVA isn’t actually the complete end of the world. I have more than enough files to order and work with there, I was just hoping to rotate between archives while undergoing the three day wait for new files. So far, though, I’ve been plenty busy pretty much everyday working through my 5 file limit. I’ve gotten some really dense and worthwhile materials that have taken an entire day to read through and transcribe (more on this later). I also spend a good deal of time reading through the finding aids to determine which other files to order.

For those of you who are interested in a day in the life in RGVA, keep reading here. For those of you who don’t care about archival minutiae, jump down two more paragraphs to read about a trip to see Dead Lenin again. Unlike my compatriots who work in American archives, or even some European ones, nothing at RGVA is digitized, so there isn’t any computer searching or ordering of the archive holdings. Upon entering the archive, you go to the reading room window and request a book that was published about a decade ago. This book lists the main heading for each collection in the archive, known as the fond (фонд). This can be as vague as the name of an institution, or it can be a short summary of what types of documents are grouped together. After writing down a list of interesting fonds, I then have to go to the reading room window and request a folder with the descriptions of the two levels of subfolders for the fond called the opis’ (опись), which conveniently is also the same word for the first level of subfolder.. For example, I work with fond 1P in RGVA, the Main Department for the Affairs of POWs and Internees of the NKVD-MVD of the USSR (1945-1951), which is abbreviated as the GUPVI. 1P has a number of opisi with letters to discuss different aspects within the GUPVI. Opis’ A of Fond 1P discusses the organizational structure of the GUPVI, and there are at least 23 different files for Opis A (cited as 1a, 2a, etc.). I have to order a opis’ guide for each of the opisi within Fond 1P to see the headings of the actual folders, or dela (дела). I order individual dela, a maximum of five at a time, and receive those to read actual papers. A dela can range anywhere from three or four sheets of paper to many hundreds of pages. So when I read and cite a document, it will be something like f. 1P, op. 9a, d. 14, ll. 24-25, meaning Fond 1P, opis 9a, folder 14, pages 24-25. To order the file, I have to fill out a paper request form, known as a trebovaniye (требование) in which I have to list the fond, opis, and dela that I want to receive. On this form, I need to give a brief description or name of the fond. Also, for a reason that I don’t quite understand, instead of saying delo on the form, it is instead written as edinitsa khraneniya( единица хранения), which roughly translates to storage unit. What is generally unknown when ordering the files is whether I will be given the originals or a copy on microfilm. So recently, when I ordered five files, I was only given four because four were on microfilm and I was told that I had to order the paper file again on a separate sheet. Also, if ordering from different fonds or opisi, I have to use different request forms.

My archival adventures continued with the microfilm readers in RGVA. Jumping back a second, I should mention that I am not allowed to photograph any of the archival materials. I have to take notes for everything. My only other option is to pay for photocopies, which is its own can of worms. I have to take a form to a bank to do this, and then wait roughly a month to receive my photocopies. Prices fluctuate, but they archive copies can cost anywhere from $1.00 to $2.50 per page. There is also generally a limit to how many pages can be copied from any one archive, for example 300 pages. I have also heard stories of having these copies confiscated at the airport when leaving Russia, so if I do get copies, I then have to photograph them with my phone or camera before leaving. So that brings me to the story of the microfilm reader. The readers in the archives are fairly old. They do not have the ability to print or scan. They are also quite crude and don’t much allow for zooming in or out. Finally, there are no spindles in RGVA. I literally get a roll of film and that’s it. I feed it through the machine, but I have to roll and unroll as well as advance and rewind the film solely with my fingers. There is no such thing as a takeup reel to quickly advance or rewind the film. I have the feeling that this probably isn’t good for the preservation of the documents, but whatever. My consolation was that recently I found some really good documents, including ones about the POW camp near Ulyanovsk and its involvement with the ZIS, later UAZ, factory as well as the existence of a Mercedes officers’ limousine at one of the Moscow camps. I may not be doing a dissertation about Mercedes, UAZiki, and Soviet cars in general as I had hoped when starting grad school, but I’m doing my best to work my true interests into my research project as much as possible.

Enough with the archives. Let’s move on to the fun stuff. Besides the usual festivities in the dormitory with my fellow North Americans and friends from Western Europe, I’ve gone on a few adventures around having my soul crushed by the archives. I went with a few friends to Red Square for them to see Lenin’s Mausoleum. If you know me, you know I hate dead people after a traumatizing experience in a Danish Viking/bog mummy museum in my youth. I gathered my courage to see dead Lenin in 2011 with my Fulbright compatriots, but that was necessary for me to see Yuri Gagarin’s monument in the Kremlin Necropolis. Back then, we were not allowed to enter the Necropolis or Mausoleum with bags, cameras, or cell phones.

A photo from within the Necropolis. So Mosocw, much Red Square.

A photo from within the Necropolis.

I volunteered to go to Red Square with my neighbors as it was a Tuesday morning and RGVA does not open until 12:00 on Tuesdays. I said that I would gladly wait with their items while they toured the Mausoleum. Apparently, though, the rules have changed. People now just need to go through a metal detector and show the contents of their bags to enter. One still cannot talk, have ones hands in one’s pockets, or take photographs while inside the Mausoleum itself, but outside it is fine to take photography. Thus, I unfortunately saw what remains of Lenin, if that’s even him (a debate I had with the two Canadians), for a second time before getting to see the graves of the most famous Soviets including Stalin, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and Dzerzhinsky as well as Gagarin.

Gagarin's grave in the Kremlin Wall.

Gagarin’s grave in the Kremlin Wall.

The other highlight of recent times was last weekend. On Saturday morning I woke up and headed off to the Sparrow Hills metro stop and went to the Druzhba Gym, which clearly was built for the 1980 Olympics. The gym was the venue for the Russian Open, an international Taekwondo tournament. I was invited by my trainer form Ulyanovsk to come and watch a few of the kids from Club Tiger compete as well as to try to find a gym where I can train in Moscow. Natalia Vladimirovna put me in touch with a Georgian man, who said I can train with him. I had fun hanging out with the kids from Tiger and watching the events, as well as talking with Natalia Vladimirovna. She invited me on a vacation to Sochi with her family, as well as to the vacation camp near Ulyanovsk, as well as to visit her and either stay for a week or a month in her home (Russian hospitality is insane).

Russia Open Taekwondo Tournament

Russian Open Taekwondo Tournament

We also did a cool trick. On the bottom level of the gym, there were rooms set up for people to warm up before their fights. I didn’t have an ID, but Dasha came with hers, and told me to wear it. We were able to sneak past the guard, and I got to sit in the warm up room for a while. There was also an impressive demonstration of a large group of Korean children who were training and showing off their training patterns.

This week so far has been a mixture of business as usual at RGVA as well as some other bureaucratic missions. I was supposed to meet with one vice-rector on Monday, which was pushed to Tuesday, which then got rescheduled to Wednesday. Upon finally meeting her, the meeting took a completely unexpected course. I though I was going to be asked how I can help out at the university in terms of working with the Russian-American Center. Instead of the meeting being about exploitation, the vice-rector asked about my dissertation topic. I told her, and she asked if I knew one very important book in my field. I said I did, and she told me that the author is a very good friend of hers who will be in Moscow on Monday, so I’ve got a meeting set up with him. She also loaned me her copy of the book so that I can reread it to prepare for our meeting together.

I also managed, with the help of a German friend who gave me the tip, to register for the Russian State Library, formerly known as the Lenin Library, or colloquially as the Leninka. I was worried that I would be unable to do so because of my passport copy, but Yulia told me that I can register for the Leninka at the Jewish Museum and Center for Tolerance, which is conveniently located a few blocks away from our dorm. The woman there did not even ask to see my passport copy when I attempted to show it to her. Instead, I filled in a form, had a photo taken, and then was handed a reading card for the Leninka that’s good for five years. The whole process probably took no more than ten minutes, and after we spent almost three years going through the fantastic exhibits at the museum, which is super new and highly interactive. There were some fun things that were powered by XBOX Ones, which was interesting for me to see. Prior to that, Yulia also introduced me to a great cafeteria not far from the Metro stop, which is super affordable. I went very Soviet/Russian with my dinner choice of “herring under a fur coat,” borsch, plov, and kvas (aka carbonated bread drink).

I regret nothing.

I regret nothing.

And with that I’m going to eat dinner and rest up before heading back to RGVA in the morning.

Last Monday night, I hopped on a train to Ulyanovsk. I was invited to participate in the 5th Youth Innovation Forum there and give a presentation about American history and culture. As usual, I rode in 2nd Class, or Kupe, the four person cabin. For the first time ever, I had the last car on the platform in Kazan Station, which meant that I was in the first car of the train when it arrived in Ulyanovsk. I didn’t have the worst cabin mates of my life—that would be the man who drank over half a liter of vodka and puked a mixture of vodka and canned beef tongue partially on me and my bed in the middle of the night—but it also wasn’t the best experience I’ve had. My cabin included a young couple and their six month old baby, who cried a bit from time to time. They also created a minor disturbance in that they were not traveling all the way to Ulyanovsk. Instead, they got off at some stop at 4AM. The good news was that after they left, I had the cabin to myself and peace and quiet until I arrived in Ulyanovsk, where I was met at the station by my former student and good friend Natasha.

A second class kupe in a Russian train. Russian trains are actually really, really nice.

A second class kupe in a Russian train. Russian trains are actually really, really nice.

Natasha was originally going to borrow her father’s car, but there was a scheduling issue, so we got a cab to the hotel together. The Politech was very nice and paid for my accommodations in the Hotel Venets for the duration of my stay. Our cab driver was the most stereotypical Russian gopnik in a track suit with a mullet and a Lada.

Our gopnik taxi driver.

Our gopnik taxi driver.

Although he did not check me in, one of my former students, Aleksei, was working at the reception desk. We had a quick chat together the next day, as he was super busy when I arrived. Natasha headed off to work, and I went to drop my things in the room before catching the marshrutka to the Politech. I immediately felt like I had returned home when I entered the third korpus and entered the office of the International Department to greet my friends. After some quick catching up and discussion of the schedule for the next few days, I headed up to my old department office, the kafedra, on the third floor. The Applied Linguistics Department staff were excited to see me, and they all hugged me and asked how I was doing and whatnot. We had a good, quick chat about surviving life in Moscow and Russian dormitories, and they told me to come back whenever I wanted to, as the office is still my home.

It's like I never left.

It’s like I never left.

After my brief coffee break in the kafedra, I went back down to the International Department to say that I was heading back to the center and would be in the hotel lobby at the directed time for dinner. I was told to go into the neighboring office to say hello to the boss of the International Department, Pavel Borisovich, who bear hugged me and said that he was super happy to see me back. He then excitedly led me out of the office by the arm to show me the redone cafeteria across the hall, as well as a display of Soviet scientific equipment, including a glass thermometer that was good to 500 degrees, presumably Celsius.

With a few hours to kill, I headed back to the center to see my friend Iriny at the Smart School of foreign languages. She made me a delightful and much needed cup of coffee, and we quickly caught up before I sat in on an individual lesson with a young high school student. After that, I had enough time to head back to the hotel and drop off some things before heading to dinner.

There was a major group of administrators, professors, and students from the University of Darmstadt also attending the forum because there has been an exchange between Darmstadt and the Politech for 19 years. For dinner, we went to the Chinese restaurant in the city, Phoenix. I was seated with a group of mostly masters students from the University of Darmstadt, and spent most of my night attempting to remember how to speak German. While abroad, I can generally only think or speak in one language or the other. They would say something, and my automatic responses would come out in Russian, such as saying Da instead of Ja or Schto instead of Was. The food was relatively good, though there was one unidentified dish on the table, which I stupidly tried. It turns out that it was some sort of pig’s ear. It wasn’t the worst thing that I had eaten, but it also was not something I would wish to try again. It was a smoky and salty mixture of jello and cartilage.

Pig's ear.

Pig’s ear.

As the night progressed, our table ran out of both white and red wine. For reasons we could not understand, we were not allowed to have more wine, but the tables next to us still had wine. Undeterred, we switched to drinking vodka.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up and had breakfast with the German students in the hotel. We then waited around quite some time for our bus to the university for the opening ceremony of the forum. The governor, Sergei Ivanovich Morozov, spoke at the opening as did the rector of the university and some people from Darmstadt. I had to give a quick speech in Russian, in which I thanked everyone and called them my friends and said that I sincerely think of Ulyanovsk as my favorite city in Russia. Provided this link works, you should be able to watch it here. I was met with widespread cheers. After the opening, a number of people asked to take photos with me.

Some new fans.

Some new fans.

I was supposed to go to lunch with the Germans, but I noticed two UAZiki from the museum outside of the university. I asked the man from the factory if I could sit in one, the amphibious one, and he said I could. I also asked if there would be a possibility to go for a ride, at least from the front of the university to the road, and he told me that I would have to ask one of the drivers from the factory, who would be arriving later. So I stood around for fifteen minutes making small talk with the guy from the factory. I offered him a Marlboro Red, which he gladly accepted. When the driver showed up, I asked if I could ride with him and he said I could go to the main road, basically a few hundred feet at most. The ride was fun nonetheless, and I gave the driver a few cigarettes as thanks.

Riding in an amphibious UAZik!

Riding in an amphibious UAZik!

After my joyride, I went back to the center for a food crawl of Shawarman, the best shawarma in both Ulyanovsk and Russia, and Donut Family, a new donut chain in town that’s owned by an acquaintance. The food binge was acceptable, because after it, I had a two hour practice with my old Taekwondo Club. I’m still amazed by Russian hospitality, and how warmly I’m greeted at my old gym.

Ulyanovsk Club Tiger and my wonderful trainer Natalia Vladimirovna.

Ulyanovsk Club Tiger and my wonderful trainer Natalia Vladimirovna.

On Thursday morning I gave my lecture on American history and culture. The lecture hall was packed, and I think it went fairly well. It was actually standing room only. Thursday was also an interesting day because the new Fulbright ETA arrived. I felt bad, because they made her come to my lecture.

My selfie skills suck, but I think people liked the lecture.

My selfie skills suck, but I think people liked the lecture.

After being mobbed for photos after the lecture, the Fulbright ETA and I were led to the university restaurant complex for lunch. We were supposed to eat with the German students, but for various reasons that fell through, and we were invited to have lunch in the VIP room with the important faculty and administrators of Darmstadt and the Politech. Thankfully I was seated next to the Fulbrighter and Ekaterina Petrovna, my former department head, who is now also a dean. Between the many toasts, she and I were able to catch up a bit, and I was told to come to the kafedra for another mini-party the next day.

Lunch in the VIP room. The president of the University of Darmstadt was sitting across from me.

Lunch in the VIP room. The president of the University of Darmstadt was sitting across from me.

Friday morning I went back to the university for the closing ceremony for the forum. I was super excited to see the emcee of the event, my former next door neighbor Vadim. He is finishing up his master’s degree at the Politech at the moment. It was nice to catch up with him briefly. After the ceremony, there was a break before lunch, so a German from Darmstadt named Alex and I took a walk along the overlook of the Volga next to the university. At lunch, we were in the VIP room again, but with a smaller group of people including Pavel Borisovich, Yura, and Katya Glukhova. Lunch was good, but once again filled with many toasts. Pavel Borisovich toasted me, so then I had to give a toast to my Russian family and second home at the Politech.

After lunch, I ran to Magnit to buy a cake to bring to a party in the kafedra. It was partially held in honor of teacher’s birthday and partially in my honor. Before the festivities could begin, I was told to go speak with the first year students in English while the teacher had a cup of tea. Eventually, I was released back to the kafedra and Ekaterina Petrovna finished her class as we could have some time together.

Best department head ever.

Best department head ever.

They told me what their students thought of my lecture. “We learned that Susan likes pelmeni and Russian Standard.” Finally, they asked if I wanted to come back and teach for the department again. Over the weekend, I was offered four different jobs in Ulyanovsk, so it’s good to know that there’s always a plan B for my life.

Ain't no party like a kafedra party.

Ain’t no party like a kafedra party.

Later in the evening, I went up to the Venets rooftop bar with Alex from Darmstadt and Nastya, a student from Samara who was attending the forum. Life was good in the bar until a very drunk man came in with his wife and ordered a bottle of vodka. He sat at the table behind us and shouted to everyone that we should pay attention, and that this was his wife. He overheard us speaking English and then shooed me over in the booth to sit down at our table. He then began to arm wrestle Alex while saying that his name is Genghis Kahn and that he was a member of the Russian Duma, as well as a member of the White Guard. He was quite the colorful fellow.

Russia vs. Germany again.

Russia vs. Germany again.

Saturday was another packed day. I visited my friend Masha at her apartment in the southern part of the city and had lunch with her. I then raced back to the Venets to meet my Russian teacher, Marina Sergeevna. We strolled around the bank of the Volga a bit before buying a cake and heading down to see her friend Olga a museum where we caught up over tea and cake. After an all too brief visit there, I headed to the house of my adoptive Russian family, Lena and Vadim, where we were joined by Iriny, Nastya, and Werner, teachers at Smart. We had some barbeque sausages, and Vadim showed me how to make tea in a real samovar.

Om-nom-nom.

Om-nom-nom.

Apparently the best fuel is pinecones.

The real Russia.

The real Russia.

Vadim also showed me how to make my own shotgun shell, which I then fired from a shotgun through the window. I also got to hold his Dragunov rifle, and was told that we can fire it at the range the next time that I’m in Ulyanovsk.

Dragunov for the win.

Dragunov for the win.

I managed to sleep off most of the previous night’s activities to wake up and pack my bag. I had been given two bottles of samogon from different people as well as a very fancy bottle of vodka from the Politech. It was a struggle, but I managed to fit everything into my bags and to check out in time to meet Iriny at Coffee Bean for some caffeine. We also went to a bakery and got some very good ginger cookies before strolling around the Lenin Memorial for a few minutes. I then went back to the Venets to meet my good friends from the International Department for lunch.

Some of the coolest and nicest and most awesome people in the whole world.

Some of the coolest and nicest and most awesome people in the whole world.

After I bid goodbye to them, I met Werner and we went off to get a drink together. The first two bars we tried were closed, so we wound up in the newer Irish pub called Harrats, where we hung out for about an hour. Then we walked back to the hotel, where I was met by Natasha. Natasha and I were going to take a taxi to her parent’s place and grab her dad’s car, but I was met by Anna, who asked me to take two things on the train with me to her brother in Moscow. So then her husband Yura drove us to Natasha’s place. There, I had a quick nice meal with her parents and sister before Natasha took us to a part for a quick walk before taking me to the train.

Somehow luck really wasn’t on my side, and my compartment had a two month old baby, her parents, and a man of about 35 in it. The young couple was actually very sweet, and we had a very nice conversation at night and in the morning. I’m actually quite glad that I got to ride with them.

I was met at the train by Anna’s brother, who picked up the bags from me, and escorted me to the metro, where he paid for my ride in exchange for delivering the stuff for him. I then dropped me things off in the dormitory and went to the passport office to hand in my documents for my multi-entry visa. I’m now grounded in Moscow for a month until I get the new visa. Life was better in Ulyanovsk, where I know the governor, who once got me a new multi-entry visa in an hour.

The rest of this past week has been filled with more bureaucratic nightmares. On Wednesday morning I returned to the international office at 11:00 AM to get my student ID and create the letters of invitation for the various archives. Unfortunately, the student ID was not ready as it hadn’t either been stamped or signed (or both?). Irina, the woman who works in the international office, then proceeded to draw up my archive letters from a list that I gave her. She made sure to double check the names of all of the archives, as they sometimes change, and sternly told me that it is now called the Russian State Library, and has been called such for a number of years, despite the fact that everyone colloquially still refers to it as the Lenin Library, or Leninka for short. Irina printed off my letters and led me down the hall to some office at the opposite end of the building, where someone would sign and stamp the letters. Not surprisingly, that person was not in her office and it was unknown when she would return for the day. Thus, Irina told me to come back the following morning to get my finalized letters and student ID.

Thankfully both my student ID and letters were indeed ready Thursday morning at 11:00, so I immediately set off for the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), which also is the same reading room for the Russian State Archive of Economics (RGAE). Registering for these was once again an ordeal. First, I had to go to the pass office to get a temporary pass to get past security and into the reading room. To do this, I had to show my passport and letter of affiliation. Next, I took my temporary pass and passport to the police officer near the stairwell and was allowed up to the second floor to register. I went to the GARF window and saw that the same two people I dealt with two years ago are still there. There is an older woman of about 50 who scares me and a man of about 35, who is always very helpful. Thankfully I mostly spoke with the man. Registration for GARF is now completely on the computer. I filled out a standard form with information such as my university affiliation, research topic, and location of registration and residence in Moscow. This took an annoyingly long time as I had to type everything in Russian, and I don’t actually know the real Cyrillic keyboard. I stupidly learned the phonetic one, which causes massive issues in times like these where I’m forced to hunt and peck for the letters that I need.

After filling out the electronic registration, I went back to the GARF desk to get a pin number for the computer system. GARF has now transitioned to requesting documents electronically. I had to have the guy from the desk show me how to use this new system. However, not everything has been input into the system. I wanted to order some folders that I had seen two years ago, but only about half of them showed up. We then had a very interesting exchange in which he asked where I had found those numbers, to which I responded that I had read the folders there two years ago. He then shrugged, said they were probably partially secret, and then told me that I would have to order them on the old paper form. I also had to initial the print out of the electronically requested documents.

I then took my temporary pass from the GARF window to the RGAE window to register there. Once again, I basically filled out the same form on the computer. I was then given another pin code. Both GARF an RGAE will create long term passes that I can use to enter the archives. The woman at RGAE reminded me that I need to specify also at GARF that I will use my laptop in the archives, and there will be something like that written on my passes, which should be ready to get from the pass office on Monday. Unfortunately, the passes for GARF and RGAE are only good for calendar years, meaning that I will have to completely re-register with new letters of support from the university in January. Joy.

Just a sample of everything that I have to carry with me: passport, student ID, dorm pass, dorm registration, RGVA registration, and metro card.

Just a sample of everything that I have to carry with me: passport, student ID, dorm pass, dorm registration, RGVA registration, and metro card.

As I finished registering at GARF and RGAE early enough, I headed off to another part of the city to register at the Russian State Military Archive (RGVA). The travel itself is slightly complicated by the fact that the Frunzenskaya Metro stop, the one for GARF, is closed for renovations. Thus, to get to that archive, I take the circle line from my stop, Novoslobodskaya, to Park Kultury, where I would normally switch to the red line. Now I exit at Park Kultury and take a free bus to the Frunzenskaya stop. Thankfully these replacement buses seem to run almost as frequently as the metro itself. So leaving GARF, I took the bus back to Park Kultury and switched to the green line to go to the penultimate northern stop, Vodnii Stadion, for RGVA.

Registering at RGVA was its own series of ups and downs. For example, the pass office immediately generated a card for me that is good for an entire year, or until September 2017. The last time that I worked in the archive, I had to meet with the director and get his permission to research there. This time, that step was avoided and I was able to go directly to the reading room to register. Unlike GARF, the registration at RGVA is still done on paper. Additionally, I handed a blank sheet of printer paper as was told to copy a  form letter to the director to ask for permission to use my laptop in the reading room. After spending some time with the finding aide, I was given a series of opis guides in order to determine which folders to request. Annoyingly, at RGVA, I can only request five folders at a time. They also told me that my folders wouldn’t be ready until Wednesday, unlike GARF which said Monday. I foresee this as being a bit of a problem as the majority of the documents I need to research are in RGVA, so the limits and long waiting period might cause some issues and frustrations.

While leaving the archive, I had to return a mysterious call from a number that had called me twice while I was registering in GARF. I called the number and asked who called me, because I didn’t recognize the number, but the person on the other ended wanted to know who I was. I said I was Susan and it turned out to be Irina calling about the payment for the multi-entry visa. She told me that I should give the receipt to the visa office. I responded that I tried to give it to them on Monday, but that they told me to wait until I return from Ulyanovsk. Irina said that she heard otherwise, and that I was to hand in the receipt. I said that I would do it the next morning, when I went to pick up my Moscow registration from the passport office. Irina said that that was acceptable, and I headed back to the university to relax in the dormitory. While walking near the university campus, I was surprised on the street by Irina, who once again told me to hand in the visa receipt. I told her that it was 5:10, and that I was unlikely to find anyone in that office by that time of the evening, and that I would first have to get the receipt from my room. I told her again that I would hand it in Friday morning. She apologized and said she forgot and that that would be okay.

Friday morning I headed to the visa office at 11AM to get my registration. There was a man in the office who I hadn’t met before. He searched through the registrations and said that mine wasn’t ready yet, and to return at 2:00. We then had a quick discussion about the payment receipt for the multi-entry visa. I told him that I was originally told to hand it in when I return from Ulyanovsk, but that I was called the day before and asked to hand it in. He said that I shouldn’t have been called and to keep the receipt in a safe place because I should hand in the receipt with my photos, application for the multi-entry visa, and passport when I return. With that I left and returned again at 2:00 to finally acquire my Moscow registration.

Not everything here is a bureaucratic nightmare, though. I’ve managed to have some fun around my waiting. Without the ability to go to the archives as planned on Wednesday, I decided to do something for myself and headed off to Moscow’s celebrated Novodevichy Cemetery, where the likes of Yetlsin, Prokofiev, Gogol, and Mayakovsky are buried, among others. In Soviet times, this was the most important place to be buried after the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. While I made sure to see some of these important graves (some for the second time as I had been here in the winter of 2009/2010 on a Lafayette interim trip), the real purpose for my excursion was to visit my great-great-uncle’s grave. He, Ilya Selvinsky, was an important Soviet poet. I did not realize until a few days ago that he was buried in Novodevichy Cemetery. When I get back from Ulyanovsk, I will call his daughter Tatiana again, my grandmother’s cousin, and see if she is willing to meet with me.

The grave of Ilya Selvinsky in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetry.

The grave of Ilya Selvinsky in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetry.

I’ve also begun to have some fun with the other foreigners in the dormitory. On Tuesday night I got back to the dormitory after strolling around the banks of the Moskva River with a friend named Masha. Earlier in the day I was in a bad mood because I had purchased two packages of salami, which were stolen from the communal fridge. I somewhat ranted about it on Facebook, and due to the goodness of social media, my downstairs Canadian neighbor informed me that she found a package of salami in her kitchen that did not belong to her or her neighbors. Thus, I was reunited with half of my food. Then, Friday night, I had a fun moment of cultural connections with the two Canadians on the eight floor. They said that it looked like there were bullet holes in the wall. Being an American, I should be able to tell them if they were indeed bullet holes.

I mean, it does look like someone fired at shotgun at this wall.

I mean, it does look like someone fired at shotgun at this wall.

I also noticed the frightening lack of fire safety on their floor. The end of my floor has some terrible chute/fire escape device. Their floor has a diagram for using some sort of block and pulley to repel off of the building in case of a fire. However, there was no sign of the block or pulley anywhere on the floor, though the anchor points are visible on the outside of the building.

The diagram shows what to do, but there is no explanation or indication anywhere on the floor if the tools to do this exist.

The diagram shows what to do, but there is no explanation or indication anywhere on the floor if the tools to do this exist.

 

I know it may not seem like it, but I am in Russia to actually accomplish serious dissertation research. To get this underway, though, is far easier said than done. As I mentioned in my previous post, by the time I arrived at RGGU on Friday, I was too late to check in with the International Office, which closed before 4PM. This morning, I had to wait until 11:00AM for it to open. Then began my adventures in bureaucratic hell.

There was some event for freshman, which made it difficult to trek back and forth within the university courtyard.

There was some event for freshman, which made it difficult to trek back and forth within the university courtyard.

I had to officially register with the university, do some other paperwork for the archives, and hand in documents to get my registration with the Russian Federal Migration Service at the office this morning. I went to the office and began filling out the first round of documents for the university without a problem. The issue was that a few foreign students came in and out who did not speak Russian very well. The nice woman who works at the international office doesn’t really speak much English, so as I tried to fill out important information like what my address is, I had to act as an interpreter for a variety of students trying to register for Russian language proficiency exams.

The next bureaucratic hurdle was that all I could do initially was register at the university itself and procure my electronic pass that lets me into the dorm. I needed to talk to the visa/passport office, but it was 11:30 and they did not open until 12:30. In the meantime, I was told acquire a variety of passport and other sized photos for additional documents, though no one knew where I could get document photos taken. I also had to go to Sberbank with a sheet of paper to pay about $25 to start the process to turn my single-entry, 90-day visa into a multi-entry visa that’s good through July. The woman had to ask someone else across the hall where the bank was located, which was thankfully just down the street from my metro stop. In I went to the bank where I got a number and waited. I approached the desk and told the woman that I needed to pay for my multi-entry visa. She then entered my information into the computer, but said that the computer doesn’t have the USA in the system, so she filled in that I was Russian. Then, on the printed receipt, she crossed out Russia and wrote in USA. Apparently I wasn’t the first person to have this problem per se, she pulled out a sheet of paper with a whole list of different countries that the system didn’t recognize and added the USA to it.

On the way back from the bank I managed to find a photo place that specializes in ones for documents. That process was quick and relatively cheap, but was a different from CVS in that the woman assiduously applied photoshop to my document photos.

Getting the celebrity photoshop treatment?

Getting the celebrity photoshop treatment?

Armed with photos and a payment stub, I returned to the passport and visa office by 1:00. However, I had to wait around for about 15 minutes before the woman working there came back from some unknown location. Once again, some combination of how I look and speak led the woman working there to think I was German. I showed my passport, though in its Russian passport cover, and she pulled out a sheet of paper and told me to “write Germany here,” to which I replied that I was from the USA and she responded with, “whatever.” The form though, was to generate the multi-entry visa, which can take up to a month, meaning my passport is out of my possession for that time frame. Thus, I have to come back again later to do this process because I’m traveling to Ulyanovsk next week and cannot do that without a passport. Instead, they are simply doing my registration at the dorm, which I need to pick up on Friday, from 11-1 (hours of operation that are not listed on the office door at all). When I come back from Ulyanovsk, they will again re-register me at the dormitory in Moscow. I will then also begin the visa upgrade process.

Finally, I have to go back to the initial international office on Wednesday, sometime after 11:00! (this was stressed in an angry tone), to get my student ID and to generate a list of letters of support from the university for the archives. Which means the earliest I can get to an archive to start registering is probably Thursday. Clearly I was very distressed by this turn of events, so I went on an adventure to the Soviet video game museum, which will be chronicled in extreme detail in another post.

All of the games at the museum are playable.

All of the games at the museum are playable.

The highlight of the museum, though, was a chance encounter I had looking at a Soviet car magazine called Za Rulem. I casually was flipping through an issue from 1986 and had a minor freak out when I saw an article about the Mercedes W124 sedan and all of the advanced systems in it, such as ABS (which Za Rulem evidently wrote about in 1979 with regards to Daimler Benz inventing it and putting it on S-Classes), the automatic locking differential of the 4Matic four-wheel-drive system, and the complicated suspension system that debuted on the W201 Baby Benz in 1984 (the 190E). Shocked by the presence of this detailed technical examination of a western good in the Soviet automotive magazine, I asked the woman at the front desk if it would be possible to buy the issue from the museum. I figured the answer would be no, which it was, but that didn’t stop me from trying. She did, however, give me the name of a Russian version of Craigslist on which to create a post asking to buy that issue.

I could probably write an entire 300 page dissertation with this one page alone.

I could probably write an entire 300 page dissertation with this one page alone.

Back in Russia

Posted: September 4, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I arrived in Moscow on Friday afternoon Moscow time, early morning Friday New York time. I’m still loyal to Aeroflot, but the experience was slightly more Soviet this time around. Unfortunately Aeroflot got rid of their second free checked back from NY-Moscow. I couldn’t buy the bag ahead of time either. So I made it to the check in line and they printed my ticket, but then they held my ticket and passport captive until I went around the corner and paid for the bag at a different desk. I had to take a coupon to that desk, which was written on, and I was given another receipt. I had to give both of these items to the check in desk woman to get my boarding pass. Security was its usual joy, but it wasn’t bad.

The plane was supposed to board at 6:30, but the plane didn’t show up to the gate until 6:25. They then eventually made an announcement that we would board at 7:30, despite the fact that the Russians had all mobbed the gate in line starting at 6:30 or so. I waited in line for roughly 90 minutes before I got to board closer to 8:00. By the time we took off, it was just shy of 10:00PM.

Aeroflot was its typical joy. We were taxiing and people were still standing and arranging baggage and no one cared. The safety video was also played at a low volume without any attention having been given to it. There were no crew demonstrations of how to inflate life jackets or use seat belts, and none of them stood in the aisles to direct us to our nearest exits.

I don't know how, but the Russian woman next to me got a pickle in her cup.

I don’t know how, but the Russian woman next to me got a pickle in her cup.

I’m not sure if it was caused by the delay, but when we arrived in Moscow, we didn’t get a jetway. Instead, we taxied almost to Terminal F, had to disembark with stairs, and then take a bus to Terminal D to clear customs and get our bags.

As usual, I took AeroExpress into the center of the city. I sat next to a man of about 50 who was taking some sort of exam on paper about hazardous materials. He also happened to have a copy of them exam on his iPad with the answers already filled in. By taking the exam, I mean he was copying the answers from his iPad. That made me feel safe.

Safety first!

Safety first!

From Belorussky Station I took a cab to the dormitory at RGGU. I was let through the main door to the 4th building, which houses the office for the dorms. I registered quickly with the woman there, and was placed in a decent room on the 9th floor of the 4th building. Unfortunately the International Office was closed by 4:00PM when I arrived, and I have to wait until Monday after 11:00AM to start the registration process with the Federal Migration Service as well as get letters of introduction for the archives and things like a university ID and electronic card to get into the dorm without ringing the buzzer every time. Clearly I am very distraught that I will not be able to register at the archives on Monday, and that I might even have to wait as long as Wednesday.

My accommodations are ok. I’m on the 9th floor of the 4th building, which is a different one than the last time that I stayed at RGGU. The level of accommodation is roughly the same as last time, except that I have a sink to myself and one that is shared with the room next door. Like last time, there is one kitchen for the floor and two showers and toilets at the other end of the hall. I’m directly across from the kitchen, which is convenient but also a little noisy. So far I’ve met three of my neighbors, who are all international students at RGGU. One is from Bosnia, one’s from Germany, and the last one’s from Slovakia. They’re friendly and insist on speaking Russian in the dorm, which is good I guess as I’ve regressed from speaking like a three year old to a two year old. Actually, lies, Russian two year olds probably know how to use verbs of motion.

60% of my majestic spread in the dorm.

60% of my majestic spread in the dorm.

After settling into my room I ventured out to the shopping mall place a block or so from the dorm next to the metro stop. The inside of the mall is the same and the grocery store is still there. However, the underground crossing used to come up inside a different building with tons of kiosks, which has recently been torn down. Thus I am without the quick Teremok stand on the street as well as the place where I got my sim card the last time.

I spent yesterday doing a few more tasks related to getting set up in my room, like buying a water filter and electric tea kettle, as well as meeting up with a few people from Ulyanovsk. A former student of mine, Julia, flew from New York to Moscow the day after me and we met briefly in the Kazan Train Station. She gave me the tip on the best phone provider. MegaFon has a good deal for 5GB of data plus unlimited texting in Moscow for about $7.50 a month. As the data is cheap, I use WhatsApp to contact my friends in Ulyanovsk, and that’s cheaper for them to contact me as well.

In the evening, I met my friend Inna who used to work at the International Office of the university in Ulyanovsk. We went out for drinks with her friend from Ulyanovsk who also lives in Moscow. We mostly caught up, but the conversation turned to politics briefly, as usual. I was asked about the election. They knew the name Trump but couldn’t remember Clinton’s name. “Who’s the other one? Hilton?” And so begins another year of what I am sure will be amazing adventures in Mother Russia.