Archive for November, 2016

This was my second time that I’ve spent Thanksgiving in Mother Russia, and this time I made up for the last time in a spectacular way. In Ulyanovsk, I had to spend the day teaching and taking classes. My celebration in the evening was to eat some chicken that I got at the rotisserie chicken stand near the dorm. This time, like a truly gluttonous American, I had two fantastic Thanksgiving dinners in Moscow.

As Thanksgiving is a national holiday back home, I took the day off from going to the archives. The real celebration happened in the afternoon, and evening. I have become friends with one of the undergrads spending a semester learning Russian here at RGGU. He is fortunate to live with a wonderful host mother named Alla. Alla went above and beyond to make a Thanksgiving dinner for the undergrad, one of his classmates, myself, and our adopted American Anne-Marie (who is Canadian, so she’s technically also American, but whatever). The others all had classes in the afternoon, but being free all day, I got to Alla’s apartment early to help her prepare dinner. This was slightly easier said than done because Alla’s apartment doesn’t have a working phone system to call the apartment from the outside. Luckily, a neighbor was entering the building around the same time as me, so she let me into the front door and I climbed up to Alla’s apartment. We then spent the next two hours continuing to get things ready for dinner, drinking coffee, and chatting. There really wasn’t too much for me to do to help, as Alla had done most of the work already. My help was cutting a few potatoes before they were boiled to make the mashed potatoes, cutting and peeling apples for the apple pie, and partially setting the table.

The complete spread for Thanksgiving No. 1.

The complete spread for Thanksgiving No. 1. It was like Thanksgiving at home, but with vodka.

Eventually, the other Americans showed up after their classes, and we continued to finish setting the table, mash the potatoes, and check that the turkey was fully cooked. I cooked the extra stuffing that did not go in the turkey on the stove top in a pan, and Anne-Marie carved the turkey. For the meal, we were also joined by Alla’s aunt as well as Alla’s cousin and his wife. After they arrived, we sat at the table and had quite the feast.

We started with an aperitif of sparkling wine, before we tucked into the meal. In addition to a lovely turkey, Alla had made stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and a hybrid Russian-American salad of some sort. All of the food was spectacularly delicious, and we had a good time chatting the night away in Russian.

The dessert course was also spectacular. In addition to the apple pie that I helped to make, Alla had made a pecan pie. Both pies were scrumptious, especially with a healthy addition of Russian ice cream. Russia is well known for some of its dishes and staple exports such as caviar and vodka, but it is little known that Russia makes excellent chocolates, candies, and ice cream. Unlike in America, much more of the food in Russian is locally sourced and uses natural ingredients. The ice cream is a good example of this. Unlike in America, it is definitely made with cream and real sugar. The result is a decadent and smooth ice cream that is good to enjoy whenever. I may or may not be known to wander down the street in the heavy negative temperatures while enjoying a Russian ice cream cone or equivalent of a Good Humor bar. But back to Thanksgiving. The pies were great. Alla’s cousin and his wife decided that both were good, but they felt that the apple pie was better. I like to think that this was because I helped, or maybe it’s because Alla liberally splashed some cognac into apple, sugar, and cinnamon mix.

Dessert course.

Dessert course.

Then,  yesterday, I had Thanksgiving round two at Erin’s apartment with Slava and Anne-Marie. I met Slava and Anne-Marie around 12:00 at metro stop, and we swung by a shop to get ingredients and some wine to bring to Erin’s. We were basically responsible for cranberry sauce and an apple pie. Getting the ingredients was a little easier said than done. The night before, Anne-Marie got some frozen cranberries and the cinnamon at a store in a different neighborhood. We went to the nearest food store to Erin’s. It was a small, independent grocery store. It had almost everything we needed. We at first tried to find a different, chain grocery store across the street. According to Yandex, the Russian equivalent of Google, the store should have been there, but it didn’t exist. So we went back into the small store, and got the majority of the things before heading down the street to find a store that sold wine. We thought we found the place down the block. It said it was a universal store, and there were pictures of food items on the sign. We went down the stairs into the shop, which turned out to be solely a hookah and tobacco store. It turns out that the store we wanted was at the end of the block, hidden from our view by a flower store. While walking back, I noticed a bent wire with some tape over it on the ground at a parking area. It was a homemade slim jim, the tool used to break into cars. Generally, people in America use metal coat hangers for the same job. The idea is that you take a piece of wire, and slip it down a car door at the window seal. You then fish around the door until you find the wire that controls the door lock, which is then pulled up to unlock the door without a key. I’m going to assume someone in the Dinamo area is currently missing their car.

Someone is probably missing a car.

Someone is probably missing a car.

We then went from the store to Erin’s. We got in through the front door and spoke with the woman whose job it is to monitor who enters and exits the building. We said that we were going to Erin’s, and she told us to go around a few corners and to take the elevator, because if we took the stairs, we would not be able to find the apartment. However, when we got out of the elevator, we immediately found the apartment, which is across from the stairwell. Upon arriving at Erin’s, we got to work on preparing the meal. Anne-Marie took charge of the cranberry sauce, and Erin saw to the cheesy mashed potatoes, turkey breast, and beets. The apple pie was a team effort in that Slava peeled the apples, I cut them up, and Anne-Marie mad the crust from scratch and saw to adding the cinnamon, sugar, and lemon.

Feast No. 2.

Feast No. 2.

All of the food turned out phenomenally. We gorged ourselves in the dining room, and made sure to add ice cream to the hot apple pie at the end. The ice cream was a little funny in that the only vanilla ice cream for sale in the local shop was sold in log form in a plastic bag. None of us had ever seen that before outside of Russia, and even Slava was confused by it. Our solution was to slice off some hunks, and it worked out well.

Cutting the ice cream to adorn the pie.

Cutting the ice cream to adorn the pie.

We also had a surprise bit of entertainment between dinner and dessert when we heard the doorbell. It turned out to be a police officer, which surprised and scared us a bit. Apparently he was going around the apartments to do routine checks that the correct people were living in them. That is, he was checking that the people living in the apartments were indeed registered to live there. Thankfully everything was in order, and he left after about five minutes of doing some paperwork.

All in all, it was a great evening, and I had a wonderful time with my two Thanksgivings.

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On Sunday I crossed another item off of my Russia bucket list, I finally went snowboarding at an indoor ski area on the outskirts of Moscow called Senjkom. Two years ago, I had seen the place from the bus while going to the Memorial Museum of German Anti-Fascists for research. I was willing to trek out by myself for the experience, but thankfully one of my Austrian neighbors was also interested in experiencing an indoor ski area. So, on Sunday morning, we hopped on the metro to one of the last stops on the purple line in the north-west of the city. From there, we hopped on a minibus and took about a fifteen minute ride to the ski area.

Seeing the area peak out from behind all of the residential buildings.

Seeing the area peak out from behind all of the residential buildings.

At the ski area, we paid for an hour of skiing each. We could have paid for more hours or the whole day, but one hour was more than enough because there is only one, fairly short slope. After buying the list passes, we headed to a different are past a turnstile to rent equipment, also for the hour. I got a fairly decent Burton board, a little shorter than I normally like, but it was fine. The boots were super worn out and terrible, and according to the rental agreement I signed, were worth 0 rubles. I probably should have seen if I could have walked off with them. The equipment rental was also available by the hour or by the day. Thankfully, included in the hour, was an extra thirty minutes to allow for changing into gear and whatnot. After we got our equipment, we went off to the locker rooms to drop off our extra stuff. The locker was pretty cool. My lift ticket was an electronic card. I closed my locker and a central computer bank flashed the number for the locker and then I touched my card to that point and it locked the locker and saved the locker number onto the card. At the end, when I was done, I touched my card up to the point and it opened the locker up again.

The day's ride.

The day’s ride.

The skiing itself started counting down from the first time you touched your card to the turnstile in front of the lift. The area itself included a poma and a quad for getting up. There was one main slope, equivalent to a Green Circle in the American ranking system, as well as a small terrain park with boxes, rails, and a larger jump with an airbag below it for landing. My neighbor and I were a little concerned by the airbag, because in theory landing wrong on an airbag with skis could maybe led to some injuries, but we ignored that and amused ourselves with going down the one trail. We went down probably six or so times. The trip down itself only took about a minute at a reasonable pace, but the ride up and getting on and off of the lift took up the majority of the time.

First ride of the season: check. Snowboard in Russia: check.

First ride of the season: check. Snowboard in Russia: check.

The snow itself was pretty high quality for artificial snow. According to their website, they create the snow by cutting down blocks of ice. The ice shreds are then blown onto the slopes, which are groomed with snowcats, presumably every morning or evening.

Going up.

Going up.

The complex was a little strange in that it was completely filled with advertisements for Austrian ski resorts. All around the “base lodge” there were ads, and then on the wall of the “mountain” itself there were pictures of the Alps to set the mood for skiing.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time there, but even halfway through the hour, the slope was already getting a little boring. My neighbor amused himself trying to spin around on his skis, while I mostly just went straight down on the board. Because the slope was completely even and fairly well groomed, there weren’t really options to do small jumps or anything like that. And the fairly shallow nature of the slope more or less created a self-imposed top speed. I tried to take a video while going down the slope, but I’m no Brian Sisselman (if you get the reference to 1980s Warren Miller ski videos we should be best friends) so everything was shaky and terrible.

Not terrible for a single slope in a building.

Not terrible for a single slope in a building.

I also had another completely off of the wall adventure today. For lunch, I went to a fairly hipster restaurant that specializes in cooking dishes made from nutria, which is a kind of rodent. Someone had sent me an article in the British press about this place, and someone else had sent the article to Anne-Marie the same day. The two of us decided to go on a culinary excursion for lunch to try the nutria, or “rat” burger from the Bistro Krasnodar. If you know me, you know I love eating different and exotic meats. There is a specialty butcher shop in Pittsburgh and I have a dream of eating my way through the offerings. According to some articles that I read, nutria isn’t really common in Moscow, but the chef who created the restaurant hails from Krasnodar, where nutria can be a fairly common source of food.

The nutria aka rodent burger.

The nutria aka rodent burger.

The burgers came out and we were beyond pleasantly surprised. The meat itself had a very mild, almost bland flavor, with just the tiniest hint of gamey/wild taste to it. The burgers were perfectly cooked and lavishly accompanied by lettuce, tomato, roasted peppers, and some kind of herb mayonnaise/aioli. It was by far one of the best burgers I’ve had in my life, and certainly the best burger that I’ve had in Moscow.

Om nom nom.

Om nom nom.

I paired my burger with a beer from Krasnodar that was on tap, and Anne-Marie got a cider. For about $12, I got a great burger and the beer. This included a small discount for a weekday lunch special. The place also had a great soundtrack of rock hits featuring the Black Keys, the Arctic Monkeys, and Blondie.

Last night, I went to go to Garbage with Erin. I had seen the ads for the concert on a giant light up screen across from a long crosswalk that I have to wait at for minutes at a time when coming home from Taekwondo. I got excited, but figured that no one else would want to go to the concert with me. Thankfully, Erin is a fan of Garbage, and she initiated an email asking if any of us ASEEES people wanted to see it.

Getting the tickets was a bit of an affair. The website refused to accept either my or Erin’s American credit card, so I decided to go on an adventure to get the tickets from the venue on Monday after I finished up at the military archive. Thankfully, Monday is Anne-Marie’s free day, so we turned it into a super adventure. She met me at Voikovskaya on the green line, one stop from the military archive, and we walked to the station for the new Moscow Central Ring light-rail, metro extension.

Cruising in comfort at almost 100 KPH between stations.

Cruising in comfort at almost 100 KPH between stations.

We rode about nine stops on that, and got off near the concert venue. I got the tickets for us, which ended up being good because there was not an additional 300 ruble service charge if picking up the tickets in person. Anne-Marie and I then popped into the major shopping center to get coffee and donuts from Dunkin Donuts while brainstorming dinner.

Cultural differences: they sell pistachio cream filled donuts in Russia.

Cultural differences: they sell pistachio cream filled donuts in Russia.

We decided to make nachos, and they turned out spectacularly.

Nacho night featuring salsa from Texas, past its prime guacamole dip that was package for the Scandinavian market, and Siberian Corona because the store didn't have the Mexican stuff this time. I believe it was the great Pushkin who wrote, "We were hungry, we were ambitious; we regret nothing, because they were f***ing delicious."

Nacho night featuring salsa from Texas, past its prime guacamole dip that was package for the Scandinavian market, and Siberian Corona because the store didn’t have the Mexican stuff this time. I believe it was the great Pushkin who wrote, “We were hungry, we were ambitious; we regret nothing, because they were f***ing delicious.”

Erin and I met before the concert and grabbed dinner at a North Korean restaurant next to the venue. The place was both exciting and bizarre. For example, there were karaoke videos playing on a TV in the room, thankfully without the accompanying music. The videos were very patriotic, and many of them showed marching soldiers, rolling tanks, and battalions of anti-aircraft guns. The menu was also both enormous and tiny at the same time. Cuisine is a very apt window into daily life in a country. The years of somewhat isolation and hardship in North Korean came across very clearly in the food. Most of the dishes were based around either kimchee or noodles in various combinations. There were a few grilled meat options, but they were quite different from their South Korean counterparts. Also, unlike in most South Korean restaurants, the accompanying plates of appetizers and garnishes, banchan, was missing.

We headed into the concert venue and had our bags checked and passed through metal detectors before dropping out coats off at the coat check. We headed up to the concert floor and moved easily towards a location that wasn’t too far from the stage. While waiting for the show to start, she said, “Isn’t this better than being at ASEEES?” ASEEES is the Associate for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, which annually runs a convention the weekend before Thanksgiving. The concert was certainly better than being at the conference. (Just kidding, we love you ASEEES. Thanks for supporting us through research grants!) At almost 8:00 promptly, the bad took the stage. They proceeded to rock out for almost two hours, which included a three song encore.

Waiting for the show to start. The Lafayette Leopard in me was excited by the backdrop.

Waiting for the show to start. The Lafayette Leopard in me was excited by the backdrop.

Oddly enough, this is the second time that I’ve seen Garbage in my life, and both times have been in Russia. I saw them as part of the Rock Nad Volgoi festival near Samara in 2012.

One from the archives: Garbage at the Rock Nad Volgoi Festival near Samara in 2012.

One from the archives: Garbage at the Rock Nad Volgoi Festival near Samara in 2012.

Like last time, they were supremely amazing. Shirley Manson is a great front-woman. In between the songs, she made sure to say hello to Moscow and thank you in Russia. She also told a great story about the band and their commitment to their Russian fans. Garbage has been coming to Russia for twenty years. She mentioned that growing up as a child in Scotland, she was told that she would never get to go to Russia because it existed behind and Iron Curtain. She then said that we always want what we can’t have, and that she had a dream of coming to the country, which was reachable through glasnost. Basically, we got a history lesson on the collapse of the Soviet Union from a Scottish lead singer of an American rock band. It was super rad. At some point in the night, she saw some fan art and demanded that the crowd give it to her. She said that she was going to give it to her father. She spoke quite frequently between some of the songs, and in fairly detailed sentences. I don’t know if it’s a comment regarding English proficiency in Moscow or the kind of people who would listen to this band, but the crowd seemed to follow along with what she was saying and cheered at appropriate moments.

Much closer to the band than the last time I saw them.

Much closer to the band than the last time I saw them.

Shirley was also quite brave before playing the song “Sex Isn’t the Enemy.” She gave a short speech about tolerance and dedicated the song to the LGBTQ community. I thought this was bold statement to make given Russia’s very conservative stance on those issues. They’re supposed to return to Russia again later as part of their world tour promoting their new album, so hopefully no troubles come of this.

Shirley Manson is a fantastic performer and seems like she never runs out of energy.

Shirley Manson is a fantastic performer and seems like she never runs out of energy.

The crowd was absolutely into the show. Everyone was jumping around and singing along. The band did a good job of mixing some of their most popular songs like “Stupid Girl” and “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” with their new material. The only downside was that the drummer and famous music producer, Butch Vig, wasn’t playing. Due to health issues, he’s grounded stateside and can’t travel with the group. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic evening, and I’ll definitely go see Garbage again if given the opportunity to do so.

A Room with a View

Posted: November 17, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

For over a month, I had been living without a properly working radiator in my room. At first it wasn’t too much of an issue because the outside temperature kept fluctuating and the temperature in my room was ok, but I had mentioned the issue to two different dormitory administrators and got nowhere closer to having working heat. The one administrator sent me to a different administrator in my building, who told me that she had known about the problem for a few weeks and that she would try to get a plumber to show up, but that there are only two for the whole university and she didn’t know when they would show up.

There was clearly something wrong with my radiator. It was only lukewarm to the touch, whereas the radiator in the hallway is so hot that I cannot touch it. I once again tried to find the dorm administrator, and she was once again not in her office. A dezhurnaya saw me look at her office and asked who I was looking for. I explained that I was looking for the administrator, and then spoke in angry Russian, complained that I have been living for over a month with broken heat in my room and that it was winter and completely inappropriate. “Это ужасно!” (This is terrible!), I shouted. Apparently my rant caught her attention, and she wrote down the information about my room and said that she would try to get to the bottom of it. Unimpressed with this lack of action, I headed to the vice rector’s office. I spoke with the nice secretaries there and explained my situation, and they were shocked to hear that I haven’t had heat for more than a month. One wrote down the info and then said she would make some calls. A different secretary said that I need to get a space heater for my room. I responded that these are forbidden in the dorm, to which she replied that they are forbidden in the university office as well, and then pointed to the space heater next to her desk while laughing.

Evidently, taking my complaint up the university ladder helped. Around 5:30PM a man showed up at my room and said that he was there to look at the heater. He touched it, slurred something incomprehensible, and then left my room with no explanation. About an hour later, I was going out to meet my fellow ASEEES grantees for the night. On the way out, I saw the plumber talking to the dezhurnaya. I asked him if the heater was broken in my room, and he again slurred some very hard to understand sentences, but I managed to understand that a master plumber would come to my room on Monday. When I came back later that evening, I double checked with the dezhurnaya if I had understood him correctly. She said that I did understand him, and then she told me that my room was probably cold because I have a corner room and that my windows are not tapped. I understand that my room may not be colder for those two reasons, but those points are useless if my heater is not working at the same level as other heaters on the floor. She also said that they may need to do some really invasive work on the radiator, which might mean draining the hot water in the building because apparently it cannot be shut off by floor, only for the building as a whole.

Unfortunately, no one showed up on Monday as promised. I asked Olga, the dezhurnaya for the night, if she knew what was going on with the heat in my room, and she said she had no clue what was going on, but then asked why I hadn’t said anything about the heater being broken. She wrote down the information and promised to tell the administrator. On Tuesday morning, I got up and found a new woman, who said that she is now the administrator. She promised to call the plumbers and have something done. I didn’t fully trust her, so I went back to the vice rector’s office to make sure that someone would indeed show up. Apparently, the new administrator kept her word. According to my neighbor, three plumbers showed up while I was getting groceries. I went to ask the administrator what was going on, and she said that there was indeed a problem with the pipes, which the plumbers were discussing how to fix. There was not date given for when it would be fixed, but I felt that something might be done.

I woke up yesterday morning to a wonderful surprise. The cleaning lady came up to me when I was refilling my water filter in the kitchen and told me that I was being moved to a different room on the floor, the last room. It is also a single room, but it has a working heater. The furniture in the room is slightly better than in the other room, and I’ve got a refrigerator and a TV.

The heat works so well that I had to open the windows.

The heat works so well that I had to open the windows.

There are only two downsides to the room. The first is that it doesn’t have its own sink like my last room. The other is that due to the weird fire escape in the hallway, my door doesn’t open all the way.

When the fire escape itself causes a fire hazard.

When the fire escape itself causes a fire hazard.

Thankfully my bags just fit through the door for moving my stuff.

Who cares about door almost holes when you have heat? I don't.

Who cares about door almost holes when you have heat? I don’t.

The room is also great in that it’s not across from the kitchen, so it’s very quiet and I was able to sleep very well. Plus, the view isn’t too bad.

This is a much better view that staring into a nearby classroom.

This is a much better view that staring into a nearby classroom.

A few hours ago, my train arrived back in Moscow from Ulyanovsk. I left over a week ago, last Friday night, on the train to Ulyanovsk. This time around, I had a travel companion in my kupe with me, my friend and former student Natasha. She had been in Moscow for a few days to see a concert, and we decided to head to Ulyanovsk together. As I was tired from working in the archive and she was tired from the concert, we fell asleep pretty early into the evening, and the two other men in the compartment with us didn’t talk to us much. On Saturday morning, we woke up in Ulyanovsk and took a taxi from the station together. We dropped Natasha off at work, and then I went to the hotel to check in and change and shower. The taxi itself was pretty cool. Russia’s equivalent of Google, Yandex, has its own taxi service that is also app based, like Uber or Lyft. Yandex Taxi has been in Moscow for a while, and just opened up in Ulyanovsk about a week or two before I arrived. The application is fast and reliable, and my rides with Yandex taxi were probably the only ones I’ve taken in a Russian taxi that had an actual meter and did not have a broken windshield.

I went to sleep in fall and woke up in winter in Ulyanovsk.

I went to sleep in fall and woke up in winter in Ulyanovsk.

I spent much of Saturday afternoon preparing for a camp that I went to, more on that later, and relaxing before meeting the new Politech Fulbrighter for dinner at a noodle place called Mister Doodls. Apparently, lo mein style noodles have finally appeared in Russia, or at least in the provinces. The place offered a few different types of noodle dishes with various meats and sauces, and there was a choice of four kinds of noodles as well as how spicy the noodles would be.

After noodles, we then went to Gonzo bar. We were enjoying ourselves, being fairly conspicuous Americans having drinks at the bar. At one point, a drunk Russian guy came in and sat next to us. Eventually, he tapped me on the shoulder and asked if he could speak with us and if we spoke Russian. I said he could talk to us. He asked why we were here, and I explained that I had a Fulbright and that Katie has it now. He said he wanted to talk to us because he saw that we both have glasses and that his daughter has some vision problems, and that she might go blind. He was clearly there to drink his problems away, and quickly got off of topic. He told us that he was in the mafia and that he is respected in Ulyanovsk. He proceeded to show us how he was missing part of a finger on his left hand and how half of the fingers on that hand didn’t work. As long as we were with him, nothing would happen to us. He would make sure that we were ok. He was clearly creeping us out, and we kept looking to the bartenders for help, but they just acted like everything was normal. The guy’s name was Andrei, which he told us, but was reinforced when he wanted to show us a photo of his dog on his phone and had issues with the touch screen. He angrily threw his phone onto the floor, and was only slightly scolded by the bartenders who said, “Why, Andryusha?” One waitress picked up his phone, and she handed it to the one bartender who turned it on and said that it was working just fine. When we finally to go out while he smoked, he said that he was respected and known at the bar and that he would talk to security and have us kicked out if we didn’t go out with him, and that we would regret our decision. Thankfully, he eventually left to smoke and we quickly paid and left the bar while he was distracted while talking to a waitress. While he left, we asked the bartender what was going on, and they said not to worry about him, that it was just Andryusha being Andryusha. We decided we had enough of him bothering us, so we left for the bar next door.

The scary mafioso.

The scary mafioso.

We chatted about life in Ulyanovsk and teaching at the Politech. The night was fun because there was a live band that played some good songs, including a fun cover of Skyfal, which led to a conversation about the best Bonds and best Bond films. We had to leave fairly because of the 11:00 curfew at the dorms. We tried to get Katie a Yandex taxi, but there weren’t any cabs reporting on the app. I then told her that we needed to walk a block or so down the road, to a street where there are generally always cabs at night. There was indeed a cab there, and Katie told me that it was good to know me because I know all of the important people and tricks to living in Ulyanovsk.

On Sunday I headed to the SMART school for the real purpose of my visit, which was to be a counselor at an English language camp through Friday morning. A woman who had I not met before named Yulia was giving us a ride to the camp in her car. Also with us was a guy from Bangladesh named Rakib, who I also didn’t know. Finally, I was reunited with Stas, who was a kid at the first camp I worked at and now a counselor, and my good friend Egor, aka George. The entire ride to the camp was accompanied with a soundtrack of Lady Gaga’s newest album. Eventually, we arrived at Aleksandrovskaya Slaboda, a resort outside of Novy Gorod.

Stas tried to take over the role of driver from Yulia.

Stas tried to take over the role of driver from Yulia.

We got to the camp and put our things in the cabins, which we were assigned to. I was in cabin 25, and was supposed to share my room with Lena and Nastya. In the evening, we prepared some events for the next day at the camp and tested out a roll playing, murder mystery game. I was a priest and had to accuse a witch of using black magic and of being the killer. Sadly, they don’t tell you how to say words like that in Russian class, but I was able to call her a witch and say that she was the anti-Christ. After the game, some of us headed off to sleep while others prepared different things for the next day.

Paradise in the Russian woods.

Paradise in the Russian woods.

After breakfast, the kids started to arrive, and chaos ensued at the camp as usual. Each of the counselors was assigned to a specific group. My group was C-1, or 7th and 8th graders. They were assigned to live with another group of younger teens in Cabin 22, which Stas had to live in and was completely in charge of. However,  during free time, I also had to report to Cabin 22 and make sure everything was in order, not on fire, and to usher the kids off to meals, lessons, or events. Over the course of the four days, I had lessons which each group of children, ranging from ages 8 to 16, at least once. For the younger children, I ended up talking about myself and America, first in English, and then I would repeat my sentences in Russian. With the teenagers, we did cultural lessons almost completely in English. At times, I would ask them how to say certain things in Russian, and they offered me a few more slang phrases to add to my repertoire.

All the best counselors.

All the best counselors.

The camp was fantastic. The resort was really fancy, and I didn’t want to leave my magical cabin or clean and modern shower behind. The food at the camp was good at some times, and other times it was terrible, but I was given three meals a day that I did not have to cook myself, so I was not complaining. I also had fun playing video games with my campers in our cabin. Apparently, Russian teens find it cool when you can beat them at Mortal Kombat. As usual, I didn’t sleep much at the camp, and was exhausted from essentially non-stop 14 hour days. Each day, I had either four or five lessons with the kids of an hour each. We also had events such as quests, game nights, and dances.

A super Soviet breakfast.

A super Soviet breakfast.

On Friday morning, we woke up for the last breakfast at the camp, and then kids either took buses back to Ulyanovsk, or were met by their parents. After most of the kids were sent off, my group was allowed to drive back to the city. This was easier said than done. The first step was to push Yulia’s car out of the snow, and up a few hills on the camp road until we got to the main road. As we had summer tires and the snow had been pretty heavy the night before, Yulia and company were making some dark Russian humor about how it was good that she and I were wearing hats, because they would keep our brains some spilling all over the road.

With Stas and Rakib.

With Stas and Rakib.

About ninety minutes after leaving the camp, we crossed over the new bridge and dropped George off at his house, then Yulia dropped me and Rakib off near the school. Rakib and I went to the school to hang out with Iriny for a while. She was supposed to have had a lesson that day, but a few of her students didn’t show up, so we had free time to catch up about her recent trip to India, drink some tea, and walk into the city center. On the way, I saw my former neighbor Vadim, and then we went to explore TsUM a little. Many Russian cities have a TsUM, which was a Soviet created acronym that stands for Central Universal Store. Back when I lived in Ulyanovsk, TsUM was a somewhat crumbling specimen of Soviet architecture, but over the past few years it has been completely renovated. It is now full of trendy, modern stores including a noodle shop and café.

Pretty soon after walking to the center with Rakib and Iriny, I met my friend Natasha for coffee.

Goofing around in Ulyanovsk, as usual.

Goofing around in Ulyanovsk, as usual.

George eventually showed up with his car, and we went off to get shashlyk at our favorite place in Ulyanovsk. While waiting in line for food, I felt a tap on my shoulder and was incredibly pleased to see my former neighbor Dayanch from the dormitory. He was there with his wife, and we chatted for a bit while waiting for our food. Although the shashlychnaya has some of the best food in the city, it is not a great place to sit and eat. There are just tables in a more or less enclosed structure that has no heat. As it was cold and snowing, George and I ate in his car.

I want all of the meat.

I want all of the meat.

We then rode around a bit, and eventually wound up at Aquamall and a French created equivalent of Costco. We killed time there, then headed back to the center where we picked up Iriny and my bag from Smart. George then dropped us off at her apartment, by way of the store. He went to leave his car at home and join us for a night of home cooked Indian food, drinks, and catching up. George left around mid-night and then I stayed at Iriny’s for the night.

I woke up around 9AM, and Iriny made me a breakfast of Indian sandwiches before I walked about a mile to Natasha’s school, where I grabbed the keys to her apartment, where I would be spending the night and taking care of her cat Kevin while she went to Samara to see a different concert. I walked back to Iriny’s, where we chatted more, until she had to leave for work. We then walked to Natasha’s, which was nearby, and I basically napped for a few hours before meeting Iriny. Thankfully, Kevin was well behaved and let me sleep without problems. I then got up, showered, and met Iriny at TsUM. Shortly after, George came with his car to pick us up. We stopped to get shawarma before driving back to Ashan again. We spent a while at Ashan, then we dropped off Iriny at her apartment and George dropped me off at Natasha’s, where I went to bed around 10:00.

Mercifully, Kevin let me sleep until 9:30 before he woke me up. I made some breakfast, packed up my stuff, and took at taxi to the Venets, where I checked in and dropped off my stuff. I then ventured into the city to walk around for a few hours. I was about to walk to the shashlychnaya again, but decided to try a burger from a food truck called Good Burger. None of the burgers had explanations, and I settled on ordering the namesake burger. Plus, what self-respecting child of the 90s wouldn’t order a Good Burger when given a chance? To my surprise, the burger came with beets on it. It was perhaps the most Russian burger ever, and it was very delicious.

Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger.

Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger.

I took a stroll down to the end of Goncharova, the main street, to the war memorial. There are some large sign boards around the memorial, and they were displaying some ultra-nationalistic slogans cheering for the Day of National Unity as well as “We Need a Great Russia!” Eventually, I wound up at my old haunt Coffee Bean for a coffee with Iriny, who waited with me for George to arrive. They said goodbye, because George had to drive back to his aviation university in Buguruslan, where he is studying to become a pilot. George and I drove off for a bit. He got a shawarma for the road before dropping me off at the hotel, where I killed some time before dinner. Natasha came a few hours before dinner to get the keys to her apartment. I also called Olga from the museum and my former Russian teacher Marina Sergeevna to set up a meeting the next day with someone who had previously worked in the Ulyanovsk archives. I then took the tramvai to Natasha’s apartment and then we walk across the bridge over the Sviyaga river to Aquamall, where we got dinner at an American themed bar called Yankee Bar. There was a live band that was pretty good. My chicken parm was decent, but very Russian with the addition of dill.

Chicken parm should not come with dill. Nor should there be croutons in it either.

Chicken parm should not come with dill. Nor should there be croutons in it either.

On Monday, met with the archive guy, who gave me really useful information for my topic and will help me do further dissertation research in Ulyanovsk. When I return, I need to get books from a store that is delightfully named “The Palace of Books.” And, on another super positive note, it seems that I will need to do some research at the local automotive factory, UAZ!

From the museum, I headed quickly up to the Politech to say hello to everyone there. I walked into Office 102, and Masha told Pavel Borisovich, the head of the international department, that I was there. He came out of his off, bear hugged me, picked me up, and spun me around. The entire office was in shock that I got such a reaction from Pavel Borisovich. We had tea and chatted quickly, and he yelled at me for not having come by sooner or told him that I was coming to Ulyanovsk. The whole trip, indeed, had been a short notice trip for the purpose of me coming to help out at the language camp at Smart.

Politech in a snowstorm!

Politech in a snowstorm!

After speaking with Pavel Borisovich, I briefly headed up to the kafedra to briefly say hello there. I finally got a chance to see Olga Anatolievna, one of the German teachers, and the two of us caught up briefly. I then ventured back to 104, and rode to Yura’s place with him. Anna cooked a lovely dinner of potatoes and mushrooms as well as zapekanka, a tvorog (cottage cheese esque) based dessert. We chatted a bit and had fun before I took a taxi to the train station. I had to leave earlier than usual because of the bad weather. We also had to allow extra time to swing by the Venets to get my bag.

The taxi ride was in a Lada Priora with a broken windshield. The car was also having massive electrical problems. I’m not sure if the lights were working or not, because he kept turning them on and off, and at a few red lights, he turned the car on and off. We also had to stop for gas at one point.

I got to the train station with plenty of time to spare, and had three nice compartment mates. One was a lady of roughly 60. There were also two men, one of about 40 who got off at Ryazan at 5:30 AM, and another of about 55. The 55 year old guy engaged me in conversation, as did the woman, in the morning. The woman complained about having been visiting her son in Ulyanovsk. She is from Moscow, and her son moved to Ulyanovsk with his wife, who comes from Ulyanovsk, to raise his family. Her one daughter lives in Moscow, and her other daughter moved to Quebec with her French husband, who she met at university in Moscow. The woman kept complaining about her children not having enough grand children, and thought that it was weird that I am not married at 27. She then went on a tirade about kids these days.

Sadly all good things must come to an end.

Sadly all good things must come to an end.

And so concludes another trip to Lenin’s home town. Tomorrow it’s back to the military archive for me.