Posts Tagged ‘archives’

I’ve been fairly intensively consumed by archival work recently. Normally I don’t like to write too much about what I find or see in the archives, but I’ve come across some interesting stuff lately, and I had a quintessential experience with the head archivist at Socio-Political Historical Archive (RGASPI) this past week.

Photo of a cool sunset by Red Square to distract from a ramble about the archives.

Photo of a cool sunset by Red Square to distract from a ramble about the archives.

In the military archive (RGVA), I’m collecting more supporting evidence but I haven’t found anything particularly new or shocking. The folders entitled “Sentenced War Criminals” in the Stalingrad Oblast were not quite what I had hoped they would be from the title. After 1950, the Soviets insisted that they held no more German POWs; rather, they only had sentenced war criminals. While undoubtedly many of those held had indeed been properly sentenced for actual war crimes, others were likely falsely imprisoned through show trials under a pretext that was internationally acceptable during the burgeoning Cold War. I was hoping to find information about these trials that evaluated POWs and designated them as war criminals. Instead, it was about 600 pages of guys being sentenced to various periods of jail within the camps for refusing to work or obey orders. There was a funny one about a guy who was sentenced to a week in camp jail for wandering around shirtless and in his underwear and cutting in the line to get mail.

In State Archive (GARF), I’ve begun working in some different collections. One has to do with bread rations during the Soviet famine of 1946-1947. As typical Soviet documents, they don’t actually admit that there is a famine. However, it is quite clear from what’s inside the documents that there was a major famine. They talk about how the camps did not have enough bread to feed the POWs. There were also many documents, especially from the republics of Moldova, Armenia, and Georgia, punishing the POW camp staff for missing food. During the famine, the camp staff clearly stole bread and potatoes. At least in these republics, they were caught and sentenced to a variety of different punishments for this.

As I’m dealing with Russian archives, I also had two “fun” incidents recently. The first involves the electronic catalog for GARF. There is an online catalogue on their website, but it doesn’t work properly. I thought there was way less on my topic in GARF because of this. For example, typing POW in the online catalogue comes up with zero results, but if I search the catalogue on the computers in the reading room at the archive, I get hundreds of results. So now I’ve got a bunch more to read through there.

I also had my first personal experience with the true Misha treatment at RGASPI. He refused to give me volume 2 of opis 2 of the Molotov fond. When I registered he only gave me the third volume, and I found some great stuff with POW repatriation or UN commissions/Cold War related stuff in those files (lots of correspondences between the Western allies and the USSR about German POWs in Soviet hands). However, someone else working in the archive had specifically told me to get a folder from volume 2 as she had ordered it and seen things about the POWs in it. I asked Misha for volume 2 but was told that “foreign affairs are only in volume 3. There is nothing for you in volume 2. There’s nothing else here for you. Go to GARF.” After some arguing back and forth and me showing him a citation for a particular folder a few times, he relented and pulled out volume 2 to look up said folder. Trying to prove a point, he flipped directly to that folder instead of letting me look at the volume myself. When he got to it, he read aloud the description, which included the German POWs. “Well, you never said the word repatriation,” he grumbled as he handed me the whole volume and walked off.

While doing my laundry last week, I was perusing the bookshelves in the lobby of the dorm. I found a copy of an Ian Fleming collection in Russian, which includes “Diamonds are Forever,” “From Russia with Love,” and “Doctor No.” I’m pretty excited to read them in Russian. I was confused by the book at first, though, when I pulled it off of the shelf because it claims to be a collection of detective novels. If you know me, you know my love of James Bond films, video games, and books is pretty extensive, except for the travesties known as the Daniel Craig films. Those suck. End of discussion. Some of the coolest days in the archives for me are when I come across SMERSH documents. SMERSH was a Soviet counter-intelligence agency that stood for “Death to Spies.” SMERSH features prominently in Fleming’s novels and a couple of the James Bond films. Those are the days in which I don’t hate my otherwise fairly dreary existence of reading dusty documents.

Ian Fleming - Detective Novels.

Ian Fleming – Detective Novels.

How do I cope with the boredom or insanity of the archives? I’m glad you asked. Sometimes I have a variety of food adventures around the city or in the dorm. For example, we have become regulars at the Uzbek restaurant Café Anor. We go there often enough that the staff recognizes us and the server knows to bring us two portions of adjika, the hot sauce.

Some nights I just put copious quantities of hot sauce on my eggs. Eggs are somewhat interesting in Russia in that they don’t come in a dozen, but rather in a pack of ten. I feel like there’s some Soviet joke to be made about only decadent capitalist imperialists having eggs coming in a dozen. img_3331

Maybe I spent a little too long reading files from the propaganda department. They love throwing phrases like capitalist imperialist around. I also improved my eggs with Sriracha, which was one of the prized possessions in my suitcase full of odds and ends. If I have to be responsible and trek to an archive in sub-zero temperatures, then I get the liberty to draw on my food with hot sauce. There is also a reason that I study history and not art, which is evidenced by the photo. In some ways I bring nothing but shame to my maternal grandparents, who were talented artists and long-time art teachers in the New York City public school system. Don’t worry, none of this is cold induced brain damage. That all happened years ago when I frequently fell down the stairs in my youth. Gravity and I are still on neutral terms at best.img_3332

Or, I have the wonderful luck of being friends with Anne-Marie, who had gone to cooking school and worked professional in the restaurant industry. On Monday night this past week we made a delightful macaroni and cheese with a béchamel base to which we added three cheeses, one of which was brie. It was superb.

There is no such thing as too much cheese.

There is no such thing as too much cheese.

Then, on Wednesday, we decided to make dinner with the leftover macaroni that was inspired by an internet food post about grilled cheese sandwiches with mac and cheese in them. I decided to step things up a notch by buying bacon at the store, which also happened to be on sale that day.

Om-nom-nom.

Om-nom-nom.

The other news in the dormitory is the turnover of the students. Over the course of the last week I said goodbye to the two remaining students who wouldn’t be back for a second semester. And, after a few quiet days of there only being three people on the floor, the new neighbors have begun to arrive in droves.

Napoleon has managed to somewhat achieve his goals 200+ years later. The three new French Canadian students are living on my floor. All of my Italian neighbors, with the exception of one, have gone back to Italy. Supposedly there are supposed to be eight new Italian students this semester, but if they’re here, they aren’t on my floor. Instead, we have quite a few French students from France on this floor, and there is also another group on the sixth floor. Thus, I am now completely surrounded by the French in the middle of Moscow. I feel like I’ve been transported into the world of “War and Peace.” I’m in some pre-1812 aristocratic Russian settlement as the corridors are filled with French speech and the only Russian uttered is broken. My only solace is that I don’t think there will be any balls held in the dormitory. Perhaps I should mention that I disliked the peace parts of “War and Peace.” There were too many balls, and Natasha’s inability to choose between her love interests was insufferable.

Outside of the comfort of food, I rely on going to Taekwondo to physically beat out my aggression.

Dojang sweet dojang.

Dojang sweet dojang.

This past week, I cut my arm pretty badly while fighting and there was a moderate amount of blood. When walking home from practice I thought about stopping at the pharmacy to buy some sort of antiseptic for the cut on my arm, but then I remembered that there is always vodka in a the freezer in the dorm.

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Thursday was the first of the month, meaning that the archives I work in are closed for what is known as a “sanitary day,” or cleaning day. Without anywhere to be Thursday morning and afternoon, I thought I would just sleep in a laze around the dorm. Those plans were quickly changed on Wednesday afternoon when I was having tea with the Canadians. I was invited to join them for a 9:00AM showing of a recent Russian war film called “Panfilov’s 28,” which is about a somewhat controversial story about the Battle of Moscow in 1941. According to lore, these 28 men all died heroically, in the process destroying 18 German tanks from an advancing Panzer Division on its advance to Moscow. The story was spread widely through the Red Army newspaper “Krasnaya Zvezda” (Red Star), and the men became Heroes of the Soviet Union.

Subsequent investigations into Panfilov’s 28 Guardsmen immediately after the war resulted in the finding that six of the men were still alive. This information was hidden until the collapse of the Soviet Union, and most recently the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) published on their website the results of the postwar investigation. The details are a little murky, but the director of GARF might have been fired for this. Despite all of this controversy, it is still a beloved war story in the former Soviet Union.

Getting to the cinema at 9:00AM, I figured the hall would be pretty empty. This was not the case at all. Our small auditorium was somewhere between a third and half full. There were also a lot of people seeing other movies at that particular, 22 screen theatre near the zoo. The attraction may have been that tickets cost 100 rubles, or roughly $1.50. The two men in front of our group were enjoying their experience like they normally would in the evening, complete with bottles of beer. The film itself was a typical, patriotic war film with long battle scenes and heroic speeches.

After the movie, I headed back to the dorms. Crossing the street to the metro, I saw someone driving a Ferrari in the heavy snow. Generally if you have Ferrari money, you should also have enough money to get a winter car. I’m pretty sure Ferraris are not meant to be driven as daily drivers, especially in the punishing Russian winters. Sadly I didn’t have enough time to snap a photo of this crime in action. I then spent a few hours at home typing up some archival notes that I had to take by hand before venturing out to meet Erin to go see the Buzzcocks, who are on a 40th anniversary tour. For those of you unfamiliar with the group, they’re a British punk band and are contemporaries of the Clash and the Sex Pistols.

The concert venue was a smaller bar/club than the place where we saw Garbage a few weeks ago called Stereo Hall. Once again, we were really close to the stage. There were also a ton of cool people seeing the concert. As Erin and I were standing around and speaking in English, another American came up to ask us a question about something regarding the coat check. We found out that he’s teaching English in Moscow. While talking with him, another nearby guy started to talk to us. He’s a Spanish student doing an exchange semester at Moscow State University, and is a concert junky. It turns out he also saw Garbage. He was very friendly and gave us the info about a website where we can find free concerts in Moscow. Then, as the four of us were talking, another guy asked to listen in and join the conversation. He’s a Russian guy who was excited to interact with native speakers.

The opening act - Пасош (Pasosh).

The opening act – Пасош (Pasosh).

The night started with an opening set from a local Moscow punk/rock trio called Pasosh. They played only their own stuff, and had quite a few dedicated fans in the audience who were singing along. They had a particularly cool song that’s entitled “Russia.” The song frequently repeats the phrase “I live in Russia, and I’m not afraid,” which is a fairly accurate description of my current life.

As a bonus, the bass player was rocking a sweet pair of Adidas track pants.img_2887

Around 9:15, the Buzzcocks took the stage to wide applause. I’m not a super fan, but I know and really like a number of their songs, especially “Fast Cars,” which reminds me a lot of one of the songs from the SNES game F-Zero (and I wonder if there is an influence there or not). To my delight, “Fast Cars” was the second song they played. They gave an awesome and essentially non-stop show for about an hour, took a quick break for about five minutes, and then gave a three or four song encore. Every now and then they said a quick word or two in between songs, but unfortunately the acoustics in the hall are notoriously terrible and we couldn’t understand what they were saying. At times it actually sucked, because you couldn’t quite be sure what song they were playing until they were roughly halfway into it. Nonetheless, I had a great time rocking out.

The Buzzcocks

The Buzzcocks

When the Buzzcocks took the stage, we were towards the front and we unintentionally became part of the mosh pit. The crowd towards the front started to mosh and we got pushed back a bit and remained on the front line between the mosh pit and the rest of the crowd. Every once in a while, someone would slam or push into us, and we would push back. It was a nice compromise.

Steve Diggle getting up close and personal with the fans after the show.

Steve Diggle getting up close and personal with the fans after the show.

After the show, the band was super chill and came to the edge of the stage and shook hands with lots of the fans. They and the roadies also were really nice about throwing or handing stuff to the crowd like the set list, drum sticks, and picks. I managed to get a pick from one of the roadies, which was pretty awesome. Unfortunately it was an extra pick, so it wasn’t used at all. I just have to not mix it up with any of the other Fender Medium tortoise shell picks that I have lying around at home.img_2913

After the show finished, we had a struggle to get our coats back. There were only two people working at the coat check, and they were overwhelmed. We stood around for about half an hour before we could get our jackets, which was particularly frustrating because we could see them across the counter. I didn’t hear it firsthand, but Erin said that a frustrated guy who managed to snag a drum stick waved it and said, “wingardium leviosa” while pointing towards his coat. Perhaps it would have worked better had he said, “accio.”

That pretty much sums up my adventures for now. It’s starting to get colder here in Moscow. We had a couple of days of temperatures in the single digits in Fahrenheit with the windchill dropping the feeling to the negatives. I have subsequently switched over to my fur hat.

Decorations for New Year's are popping up all over the city.

Decorations for New Year’s are popping up all over the city.

I’ve also become the person in the military archive that people approach when they have questions, for reasons I do not understand. One day, a man came up and asked if I could read a name written in cursive. I couldn’t, and then he tried asking the reading room staff, who gladly helped him. They also couldn’t be sure about one signature, but it’s nice to know that they may be able to help me with a similar question in the future. Then, the other day as I was walking back to my desk, a man asked me what the date was when filling out his request form. Finally, yesterday, I was working with my headphones in and then I saw a man appear out of the corner of my eye. He then began talking to me, and I had to take out my headphones and ask him to repeat himself. He wanted to know the rules for using a computer in the reading room. There were at least two other people using their computers and without headphones, so why he had to ask me will remain a mystery.

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.

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.

 

The past week and a half has been filled with a nice balance of work and having fun. Due to how long it takes to process document requests, I spend about three days a week in the archives. In my free time, I’ve been exploring Moscow, making new friends, and catching up with old ones. Last Tuesday I grabbed a drink with a former member of my Fulbright cohort on Red Square. He’s also a graduate student of Soviet history. We traded stories about our programs and the perils of GARF.

I found an UAZ 469 at Red Square. Ulyanovsk for the win!

I found an UAZ 469 at Red Square. Ulyanovsk for the win!

Saturday was a pretty busy day for me. My neighbor and I met up with my friend Emily from Alaska. Emily and I did a German language immersion program together in Bonn in 2010. We bonded over our mutual love of Russia and watched a ton of Germany World Cup games. She’s been spending her summer in Vladimir on a Russian language program. We decided to meet up and explore a few places in Moscow together. We got our obligatory tourist photos on Red Square. To Emily’s dismay, Lenin’s Mausoleum was closed, despite the sign saying that it should have been open when we were there. I was rather happy that it was closed. Due to a traumatizing childhood experience with bog mummies in a Danish Viking museum, I have a huge dislike of viewing any sort of dead bodies/remains (ask my friends about how I get really unnerved around the Egyptian exhibit at the Met).

Doing the tourist thing at Red Square.

Doing the tourist thing at Red Square.

From Red Square, we headed off to the World War II museum at Victory Park. The museum was filled with all sorts of great exhibits, dioramas, and art relating to WWII.

The inside of the Great Patriotic War Museum at Victory Park.

The inside of the Great Patriotic War Museum at Victory Park.

It also contained a slightly uncomfortable amount of Stalin souvenirs. Being the Soviet history buff, I excitedly poured over all of the exhibits and gave mini lectures about various battles, weapons, and vehicles. Matanja and Emily said they truly appreciated some of the info that I gave them. I told them they should email my adviser and tell her that I have some actual knowledge of Soviet history.

You too could own a Stalin action figure for only 6,500 rubles.

You too could own a Stalin action figure for only 6,500 rubles.

After the war museum we headed to one of my favorite places in Moscow, the Izmailovo tourist market. The market is still as packed and exciting as I remembered. My friends found souvenirs that they needed for their family members. While they left in good moods, I left with my spirit crushed. I had excitedly been talking about the shawarma stand near the entrance of the market only to find that it had recently been demolished. After the market, Emily had to head back to the train station and my neighbor and I returned to our humble dormitory.

The look of pure sadness upon discovering the demolished remains of my favorite shawarma place.

The look of pure sadness upon discovering the demolished remains of my favorite shawarma place.

This week itself has been relatively uneventful. On Monday, I registered at the military archive (RGVA) without much hassle. The people there are all very nice. I ordered my documents and was told that they would be ready on Thursday. I also learned that the military archive is closed for a summer holiday from July 1-14. This will present a slight issue as I have discovered through further research here that the information I’m looking for is probably contained within the military archive. Oh well, there’s always future research trips. The military archive has an interesting calendar at the front of the reading room. For the month of June there’s a quote that says “A future without terrorism, terrorism without a future.” I wish I could take a photo, but it’s forbidden in the archive.

I wound up inside a very old metro car. Dear Metro-North, the Russians keeps their old train cars in running order, why can't you?

I wound up inside a very old metro car. Dear Metro-North, the Russians keeps their old train cars in running order, why can’t you?

Outside of the archives I’ve spent the week watching a lot of World Cup games with my neighbor either on my computer or at a café. On Monday night we met up with my Jordanian friend Anas who goes to RUDN (Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia).

RUDN.

RUDN.

One of the cafés at RUDN has great falafel and hummus, so we grabbed dinner there. After eating, Anas gave us a campus tour, which I enjoyed due to the Cold War history of the university. It was formerly known as the Patrice Lamumba University and gave free education, or highly subsidized education, to people coming from the Third World in an attempt to cultivate Soviet values around the world. Today it’s one of Russia’s best universities, though the makeup of the student body has changed. After our tour we watched the Netherlands beat Chile at the outdoor café.

The Netherlands beating Chile.

The Netherlands beating Chile.

Things have been pretty slow lately as Thursday was Russia Day. The archives closed early on Wednesday and they didn’t reopen until 12PM on Monday. Mostly I’ve been adjusting to the time change and exploring Moscow. On Friday morning I joined one of my friends from Ulyanovsk and her friend for a boat tour of Moscow. We got our tickets and waited to board the boat, but it left early and had to wait about half an hour in line for the next one to show up. The guy behind us in line talked to us a little and then joined us at our table on the boat. We got cold so we headed inside the boat and the guy joined us. He insisted on giving me a map of Moscow that he wrote a note, as well as his name, phone number, email, and address on. He was from another, smaller city in Russia and invited us to visit him, especially in 2018 when Russia hosts the World Cup.

The guy who joined us as he was writing all of his contact info onto a map for me.

The guy who joined us as he was writing all of his contact info onto a map for me.

When the boat tour was over, he invited us to a café with him. My friends said that they had a full schedule and needed to go to the planetarium. He said he had never been there, had a free schedule, and would join us. Thankfully we dissuaded him from following us when my friends said they were just going to buy tickets for something else before heading back to the hotel to change. My plan was to go back to my dorm anyway to prepare a little before Saturday’s excursion to the Memorial Museum of German Anti-Fascists.

The Memorial Museum of German Anti-Fascists is a former POW camp located in a suburb of Moscow called Krasnogorsk. I found out about the museum through a book that they had published. The museum actually covers a wide variety of topics ranging from Soviet anti-fascist movements, German concentration camps, and Soviet treatment of German prisoners of war. The exhibits were interesting, but my real interest in the museum is that it houses its own archive. I was the only person in the museum on Saturday and the woman who worked there was very nice and spoke with me for about 20 or 30 minutes after I looked at all of the exhibits. We discussed which books I had read on the topic and she showed me a few more that I had not previously discovered. She then also gave me the name of the director of the archives to call on Monday to see if I can set up seeing what’s in their collections. I have the feeling that I’ll try to stick working in the archives in Moscow, though, as the museum takes almost 90 minutes to get to. I have to go to almost the last stop on one of the metro lines and then take a bus for about 40 minutes. The bus ride was pretty interesting in that I now know Moscow has an indoor ski area, apparently the largest in Europe.

Memorial Museum of German Anti-Fascists

Memorial Museum of German Anti-Fascists

Not too much else happened over the weekend. I did notice that the kiosk across the street from the dormitory sells Dr. Pepper, which I previously could not find in Russia, except in a specialty store for about $20 for a six pack of airplane sized cans. The other fun thing was listening to the accordionist in the underground crossing playing Linkin Park’s Numb. Lastly, while in the checkout line at the grocery store, the cashier asked where my neighbor and I were from. She then told me that she collects foreign currency, especially coins, and said that she would buy money from us.

The glorious kiosk that sells multiple flavors of Dr. Pepper in standard 12 oz cans.

The glorious kiosk that sells multiple flavors of Dr. Pepper in standard 12 oz cans.

I finally made it to GARF (The State Archive of the Russian Federation) today, thought I took a slight detour on the way in to the the Museum of Retro Automobiles.

It's me. I can't see a sign like that an ignore it.

It’s me. I can’t see a sign like that an ignore it.

This is a satellite location that houses a private collection of cars. The much larger collection is housed somewhere else in the city. The private collection featured only foreign cars. I got really excited walked up to the museum when I noticed a few 1930s Mercedes through the window. The collection of Benzes was actually quite spectacular. The only place that compares is the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, but this one was a tiny bit better because I could walk right up to a Gullwing. The Gullwing in Stuttgart is behind a barrier. My only issue with this particular Gullwing was that it was missing the special luggage set. Oh well, not everything is perfect.

A Gullwing in all of its glory.

A Gullwing in all of its glory.

The collection also included a fabulous 190SL, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone would put it next to something so pedestrian as a Corvette.

A Corvette does not belong in the same exhibition as a 190SL or some old Porsches.

A Corvette does not belong in the same exhibition as a 190SL or some old Porsches.

There were also two nice old Porsches on the upper level. The lower level housed yet another of my favorite Mercedes, the 540K. I think I really need to reevaluate my career choice given my automotive preferences.

The ever impressive 540K.

The ever impressive 540K.

After the automotive museum, I finally managed to get into the archive where I had fun dealing with paperwork. The archive where I’ll be doing most of my work actually contains the reading rooms for both the State Archive (GARF) and the Economics Archive (RGAE), so I had to register for each portion separately. The woman at the GARF desk was unfriendly, but the one for RGAE was a sweet lady who was patient and nice. Having registered I attempted to get documents that had been ordered for me in advance of my arrival, but that didn’t work out and I was sent off to the fifth floor of a far away building to read through an archive guide to select some documents. I spent about two hours reading through a guide and taking notes on the folders that I need to order. Unfortunately this will be a very slow process as I can order a maximum of five folders at a time, and it takes three days to receive the folders. I may or may not have had the Archives theme from GoldenEye stuck in my head all day.

The archive was also interesting today in that I recognized someone from my Fulbright cohort who is also currently a graduate student of Russian history. Sadly he’s leaving in a few days, but we managed to grab a quick drink and catch up at Red Square tonight. I also recognized another graduate student from a program that I was accepted into. He left before I could speak with him, but hopefully we’ll hang out in the future and commiserate over the fun that is the archives.