Archive for January, 2017

I’ve been back in Moscow for over a week and a half, and things have been fairly busy after the first few days of recovering from jet lag. Before I cover my recent escapades, I have to jump back in time to December. I had an action packed couple of days before leaving and forgot to write about them during the jet lag haze from returning home.

The highlights of those days were the two days before flying out, Saturday and Sunday. I got up early in the morning on the Saturday, so I could ride down to the end of the green line, to Tsaritsino, to watch a local Taekwondo tournament and cheer on my club mates.

Watching Nikita winning his fight.

Watching Nikita winning his fight.

From the meet, I took the metro to Sokolniki Park to meet Tobi and Micah, my dorm neighbors, to go cross country skiing there. We couldn’t have had a better day for it. The weather was sunny and it in the 20s. The ski rental was relatively easy to find from the park map. It cost 150 rubles to rent skis, boots, and poles for two hours. The annoying thing was that it cost 200 rubles to leave my boots in the hut. For $2.50 for two hours, the skis weren’t too bad. They were probably Finnish made and had rat trap style bindings. The boots themselves had a small hole in them, but they were more or less OK.

No extra charge for the hole.

No extra charge for the hole.

The park is itself great. It was the former hunting grounds of Ivan the Terrible, and was the first national park in Russia. Within a few minutes of skiing away from the center of the park, we were essentially in deep woods of birch trees. At one point, off in the depths of the woods, we came across a babushka just out for a walk in her fur coat. One of the nice things about Russia is that the natives don’t let the cold stop them. The park was filled with lots of people just walking through the woods, as well as others skiing or sledding. The center of the park even had a fairly nifty circular ice rink going around a giant New Year’s tree.

Into the woods we go.

Into the woods we go.

The skiing itself was pretty good. Some of the trails had fairly soft snow, and some were groomed with the double track for cross country skiing. There were smaller, wooded trails as well as open trails that were built as race circuits. It was Tobi and Micah’s first time cross country skiing. They picked it up pretty quickly, though Tobi was fairly bold and fell a few times. In the process of falling, he broke one of his skis, which he didn’t notice until just before we went to turn them in. In theory, we should have only paid 75 rubles for the skiing as students, but we didn’t fight for it. We also had to pay a 1,000 ruble deposit to ski, which Tobi didn’t get back for breaking the ski.

Ooops.

Ooops.

After skiing, I headed to Alla’s for pelmeni night. Alla had cooked three kinds of pelmeni: seafood, potato, and meat. Each had its own kind of sauce. The seafood pelmeni were accompanied by red caviar in sour cream, the potato by an almost Caesar dressing, and the meat ones with a garlic sauce. There was also a salad and some mushrooms as sides.

So. Much. Food.

So. Much. Food.

Some of the other highlights included a Christmas/goodbye party with some of the dorm neighbors.

Only two of us are staying this whole year. There are only three of us on the floor at the moment. One goes home in a few days.

Only two of us are staying this whole year. There are only three of us on the floor at the moment. One goes home in a few days.

Jumping back to the more recent past, I’ve been fairly busy with archival work as usual. I had ordered my documents ahead of time at the military archive via the internet, and they were indeed ready as promised. My bribes at the military archive have also paid off. Before leaving for Christmas, I gave the reading room staff some chocolates, which they gladly accepted. Upon returning, I also gave them a small box of chocolates from America. This had paid off. Recently, I ordered a few different documents. I didn’t know, but one was on microfilm while the others were on paper. In some archives, this is a huge no-no. God help you if you want to order different media on one slip of paper. One employee told me she caught it and filled out a different form for me so that I would be sure to get the microfilm one. She claims that there is some sort of indication in the finding aide as to whether or not the files are paper or on microfilm, but I think that’s just a myth.

The military archive was the easy one. I had to re-register at the State Archive (GARF) and the Economic Archive (RGAE). The process was almost like I had never been there before. I had to get a temporary pass by showing a letter of introduction and my passport. Then, upstairs, I had to hand in my letters of introduction, one for each of the archives even though they share a reading room and ID card. At GARF, the archivist vaguely remembered me and told me that I could still log into the system with my ID number in order to fill out the registration form again. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to re-register and order documents at these archives. The archivist at GARF was even nice when I asked which reading room my documents would be in, which turns out to be both of them. Despite being on the same physical campus, they have different hours of operation. Because why not.

After registering at GARF and RGAE, I hopped back on the metro to go to the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI) to register there for the first time. Getting there wasn’t bad because the Frunzenskaya Metro station, the one by GARF, has re-opened after renovations. Now I don’t have to switch from the metro to an overcrowded bus to get to and from GARF, which is a huge plus. I’ve never worked at RGASPI, but I was slightly afraid because friends told horror stories of Misha, the infamous archivist there. Surprisingly, he was very friendly and helpful, and registration was quick and easy. It felt like a trap.

The outside of the building is great. There are giant reliefs of Marx, Engels, and Lenin on the façade.

It's easy to find RGASPI. Just turn left at the trio of Soviet faces.

It’s easy to find RGASPI. Just turn left at the trio of Soviet faces.

The building had a great location to boot. It’s a few blocks from Red Square. The archive is across the street from Louis Vuitton and Nobu. It’s also a few doors down from Krasnodar Bistro, the place that sells the delicious nutria burgers. I might have to escape to there for a lunch break sometime.

Probably why the faces of Marx, Engels, and Lenin look so angry. They have to stare at their enemy. I bet no one could have imagined this would be downtown Moscow 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Probably why the faces of Marx, Engels, and Lenin look so angry. They have to stare at their enemy. I bet no one could have imagined this would be downtown Moscow 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Outside of research, I recently went to two cool museums. The first was the Metro Museum, which is free. I met with Anne-Marie to get there. We got off at the stop where it supposedly is, Sportivnaya, on the Red Line. We got out, couldn’t find it at one exit, walked around to the other exit street side to find that it also wasn’t there. We walked back to the first side and asked the woman selling Metro tickets where the museum was. She told us that it had moved to a completely different station on one of the newer lines. In total, about 45 minutes had elapsed since we met up to get to the museum. Anne-Marie mentioned how she is only this patient in Russia, and it’s true. At home, I would probably be very angry that things had changed without much indication on the internet. In Russia, though, this is just par for the course and I go with the flow.

Eventually, we wound up at the correct stop. The museum is built above the Vystavochnaya Metro station. It had some cool documents and maps from the planning of the metro back to tsarist times. Then there were artifacts from all stages of the construction of the metro from the 1930s to present, largely broken into eras that showed the growth of the system and the evolution of its technology.

Older Metro control station.

Older Metro control station. This one is from Park Kultury.

One really cool part of the exhibit was a simulator of the metro engineer. There were a few screens plus a full driver’s console. You had to press the button for the announcement about the doors closing, then close the doors, then accelerate, maintain speed, and then brake for the station. An announcement also had to be made for arriving at the station, and then the doors had to be opened. It was fun, but my years of playing GTA made me want to do everything wrong for fun such as driving above speed with the doors open. I miraculously resisted the urge to be a hooligan, though.

New job?

New job?

The other really cool museum I went to is the Central Armed Forces Museum, formerly the museum of the Soviet Army. I went with Anton, who I met at the Buzzcocks concert in December. He took me with two of his friends. First, we got off at an earlier metro stop to see some houses that had been constructed by German POWs.

Central Armed Forces Museum.

Central Armed Forces Museum.

Then, we wandered around the impressive army museum for hours. Most of the museum is about WWII, but it had some good stuff on WWI and the Russian Civil War. There were some really cool White Army uniforms and artifacts, such as banners and medals that belong to General Kornilov’s group, the Kornilovtsy, as well as a really cool painting that depicted the end of White Russia. The painting was of White Army officers and their family members as well as priests leaving Russia on a boat. Although my family members were peasants, they likely were on a similar boat to the one depicted in the painting.

The end of White Russia.

The end of White Russia.

The best part was walking through the outdoor pavilion filled with tanks, jets, and missile launchers. It felt fantastically Russian to wander around those implements in the falling snow.

Like Victory Day but better because of the snow.

Like Victory Day but better because of the snow.

The final moment of interest from the last few weeks was watching a man watch Trump’s inauguration on his phone while grabbing dinner at a restaurant with some friends. It was being broadcast on Russian media sites and had subtitles.img_3256

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Back in Moscow

Posted: January 16, 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

A few hours ago I landed back in snowy Moscow. I spent roughly a month “home” for Christmas and New Years. I use the term “home” loosely as I wound up in Vermont, Cape Cod, Boston, New York City, Connecticut, Chile, and Argentina over the month. Most of my trips were to see family or friends, but the trip to Latin America was business oriented. I presented a paper at a conference in Chile, and wound up winning a best paper award for the conference.

The host university.

The host university in Chile.

The flight back to Russia was its usual fun routine. I’m currently stuck with a conundrum when it comes to flying abroad. I have Global Entry, which also gives me TSA Pre-Check, which means that I can go through expedited security lines that don’t require me to remove my shoes, laptop, or liquids. I also get to go through a regular metal detector instead of the millimeter wave scanners. However, this only applies to American carriers. Thus, my choice of poor fates is to either fly internationally on an American airline or to go through regular security in exchange for a better flight experience. For Russia, I don’t really have a choice. Delta now only flies seasonally between Moscow and New York, and for some strange reason, the season is not in the middle of the Russian winter. People who have read this blog before will also know that I despise flying on American airlines and love the Russian airline Aeroflot. I’ve had much better service on their New York-Moscow flights than on the same route with Delta.

Breakfast Aeroflot style: blini and herring salad.

Breakfast Aeroflot style: blini and herring salad.

Check-in at JFK this morning (yesterday?) was a breeze. The security line was frustratingly long, as usual, but I managed to avoid having to be patted down. Boarding was delayed by about half an hour because the plane was late to arrive from Moscow, probably due to de-icing. What was new this time was a bevy of security checks at the gate. I’m not sure if there is something about the particular flight and current Russian-American relations or if screening has just been amplified after the Florida airport attack earlier this month. First I had to present my passport for a visa check, which is normal to fly to Russia. Then, my passport was checked by a TSA agent. From there, I was asked to show the contents of my bag to a different TSA agent. Finally, while getting onto the jetway, I was asked to show my passport to an Air Marshall, who left me alone, but they were asking the Russians what they were carrying, specifically quantities of money.

The flight itself was uneventful. I had a window seat, which I strategically booked towards the back of the plane in a row in which the aisle had already been selected. Thankfully, the seat between myself and the man on the aisle remained empty, and I could stretch out during the flight. As usual, the best part of the flight was the people watching. There was a Chinese man in the row in front of me who likely has a gambling addiction as he spent the entire 9 hour flight playing a Texas Hold Em poker game on the in flight entertainment system. The guy who had the aisle seat in my row was also a bit of a character. He got on the plane and moved his bag from bin to bin every few minutes. I also noticed, during some of his luggage rearranging, that he had bought a bottle of Bacardi at Duty Free, which he had consumed about 1/3 of before boarding the plane. Thankfully he wasn’t a drunk mess, nor did he consume more during the flight. In total, we were about 90 minutes late due to the delayed boarding and waiting to taxi and take off. The second we touched the ground in Moscow, the guy in my row and some others stood up and started to remove their bags from the overhead bins. This prompted the flight attendants to get up to tell them to sit down. The men who were standing were angry and responded that they were 90 minutes late, which somehow justifies standing when they weren’t supposed to stand?

Immigration was fine, as usual, and we had to wait a while for our bags due to “technical reasons.” I hopped on the Aeroexpress Train, which boarded exactly a minute after I arrived at the platform and bought the ticket, thankfully. I then grabbed a taxi from the train station to the dorm. Due to the traffic and the crazy intersections and long lights around the station, I probably could have walked to the dorm in the time it took to drive, but I’m lazy after the flight and with my luggage.

Back in the land of snow.

Back in the land of snow.

I caught a break when coming back into the dorm. When I left, they took my electronic key card that gets me through the turnstiles at the security checkpoint in the building with street access. I have a student ID as well as a different paper ID that says that I live in the dormitory, but it’s a hassle to dig them out of my bags and talk to the guards about why I don’t have the electronic pass. Thankfully, the guard on duty when I arrived was Anatoly, who I have previously bribed with cigarettes. He said welcome back and opened the gate for me, and I walked right through and went to my dormitory building. The next fun step was getting my room key and keycard back. There was no one at the desk, and the administrator was not in her office. I just wandered down a corridor of offices near the laundry room and found the administrator in order for her to give me my stuff.

No, seriously, the land of snow. This was shortly after we began to taxi to the gate.

No, seriously, the land of snow. This was shortly after we began to taxi to the gate.

I quickly dropped my things in my room before heading to the main building to hand in my passport and migration card for the registration process and to pick up my letters of introduction to re-register at the archives.

The second I put my big bag down in my room, though, I began to slightly worry. I noticed that the lock was missing, a telltale sign that the TSA had inspected my bag. Whoever searched my bag must have thought I was a complete weirdo. My bag contained two pairs of pants, some sneakers, and a sweater. The rest of the bag was whiskey, chocolates, peanut butter, hot sauce, and a large bag of Splenda. In retrospect, having a bag containing white powders is probably a super sure way to get your bag searched at the airport. Thankfully, noting was removed, and perhaps the most important item remained, the Splenda. The woman who makes the letters of introduction for the archives has a diabetic mother. When I stopped by her officer every few weeks to check the mail for things from home, she mentioned how her relatives in the States send Splenda for her mother. Before leaving, I stopped by the office and asked if she wanted me to bring some Splenda before asking if I could email her the list of archives ahead of time to have the letters ready when I arrived. The promised bribe worked. Irina responded to my email in record time for RGGU and the letters were ready within 24 hours. I popped by her office and got the letters, and she very gladly received a large bag of Splenda from me. She was so happy to get it that she even hugged me.

I hit a new minor snag of sorts with the bureaucracy associated with the registration process. The visa office requires a photocopy of your passport, migration card, visa, and entry stamp to fill out the registration documents at the Federal Migration Service. Previously, I would walk into the office and they would do the copies then and there for me. Now, though, they want you to use a kiosk in the lobby of the building to do the photo copies. The copies themselves cost 7 rubles a sheet, or roughly $0.11. The problem is that the machine produces very low quality copies. I walked back up to the office with the copies, and the woman then just photocopied the necessary passport pages on the copier like she always used to. I don’t know why I was sent to throw money away in a low quality machine if she was going to make the copies again anyway, but this is an aspect of Russian bureaucracy that I’ve learned to ignore.

After taking care of this business, I went and bought food, showered, and napped. I feel human again and am more or less ready for five and a half more months in Russia. Tomorrow I’m off to re-register at some archives. Stay tuned for more adventures in Mother Russia, as well as some ex-Soviet republics. I have plans to travel quite a lot around my research this semester.