Posts Tagged ‘Moscow’

In my final days before departing Russia, I had quite the packed schedule. I returned from Ulyanovsk to go back to finish up a few archival folders. From there, I headed to Taekwondo, where I spent the night sweating and learning Koryo with the Russian national poomsae champion. On Thursday night, I went to ShOR 41 for the last time for Taekwondo. It was super sad. I’m going to miss training with my excellent coach and the cool Russians. I definitely learned a lot of good drills and skills while training with them. I’m going to long for the intense practices.

With my coach on the left and the Russian national poomsae champion on the right.

On Wednesday, I worked in Little GARF and finished my research there. In the evening, I went to Erin’s and we made tacos. The weather was slightly nice enough for us to have a beer on the balcony before we froze to death. On Thursday, I went to Alla’s for tea. She fed me okroshka and a berry pie. After Taekwondo on Thursday, I had some drinks with the Italians and some of their Italian speaking Russian friends. It was a mini-goodbye party for the Italians.

One of the Italians now. Va bene!

On Friday, I got up and went to say goodbye to Alessandra, one of the Italians from my floor. She also had to go to the post office, so we took a taxi to one by Chisty Prudi together. I had to send Jean Louis the coat that he bought and couldn’t get from the dry cleaner in time before his departure. I went to the first window to buy a box. She told me to get a bag and to go to window 46. At window 46, I waited while someone else was in front of me. She told me to go to any other window. I went to a different window. The woman there told me to get a bag from the first window. I went to the first window but there was no one there, so I went back to window 46 and got the bag and filled out all of the forms there. It was an unpleasant exercise as usual. I also had to pay roughly $30 in cash to send the coat. I’m glad that I had enough money with me at the time. Alessandra and I then went back to the dorm and we quickly chugged a beer each in her room while she packed and before I headed off to lunch.

I met Oksana, my former Fulbright coordinator, for lunch at a beer place called Brussels that’s right next to her office. I joked that I want a Russian husband so that I can get permanent residence status and a passport. She said she would help me out. As we ate, the skies opened up to a massive storm. It stopped raining when we left lunch, but the sky was fearsomely dark. I made it to the perekhod in time for it to start pouring like crazy. Oksana messaged to see if I was ok, and I doubled back and had a cup of tea in her office for a bit while the rain lessened. It did indeed slow, and I walked home without getting fully soaked. I then relaxed at home for a short bit before heading off to meet Anton, Aleksei, and Mikhail.

With Oksana as the storm rolled in.

Anton met me at the Serpukhovskaya Metro, and we rode to Profsoyuznaya. Profsoyuznaya has super evident blast doors at the entrance. They have handles and you can see the rubber seals for the hermetic seals. Anton explained that each door has its own generator, and they cannot be opened without the generators. They’re too heavy and would take a massive crew and machines to otherwise open.

Super blast door.

We ended up walking through the rain and meandered our away around eventually to the Rio Mall by Krymskaya. We went in there and got some food before walking to Tulskaya where we parted ways. Nothing much of extreme interest happened while out. The sky was scary and we kept trying to walk away from the storm. At one point, we got somewhat caught in the rain and stopped under a bus stop roof for a while where we drank balsam from a bottle that Anton had. At some point in time Anton found an umbrella on the ground, but it was broken. He walked with it for a while, though, because it did provide a small amount of relief from the rain.

Aleksei couldn’t quite fix the umbrella.

On Saturday, I got up at met Erin outside Alla’s. We had breakfast/brunch with Alla. Alla had made a nice salad as well as a different berry pie. Alla told me and Erin to come back in September. In the afternoon, I went to Tatiana Selvinskaya’s. She is my grandmother’s cousin, who I met through fate while I was teaching in Ulyanovsk. She was excited to see me and said as such. She had two of her students with her, both men. Oleg was about 30 and Aleksei was about 45. They were sweet and helped her out a lot. We chatted about the family as well as her art. She was happy that I took a keen interest in her paintings. Apparently some people come over to her studio and don’t bother to look at her work, which annoys her. She is turning 90 in November and invited me to her exhibition at the Bakhrushkin Museum. I said that I had to teach, but maybe I could be “ill” and miss class for a bit. She found this hilarious and approved of my idea. I have the email of Oleg, and have promised to look for a send her photos of her aunt Raisa, my great-grandmother. Tatiana has never seen a photo of her and wants to badly because allegedly she looks like Raisa. She also insisted on feeding me and made me eat a lot. She’s very sweet and seems sincerely keen on having me stay in touch. I was impressed with how sharp she was mentally at almost 90. She is hard of hearing and slightly slow to move around, but she still paints almost every day. I guess we get our work ethic and good genes from the Russian side of our family.

With Tata.

Finally, on Sunday July 2, I flew home from Russia. The night before I managed to pack everything up. I got up in the morning and then handed my key into Evgeny, the only guy who works at the front desk of the dormitory. He said goodbye to me and was super nice and carried my second bag out to my waiting taxi. I then took a taxi to Belorussky Vokzal to take the Aeroexpress train to Sheremetyevo Airport. Annoyingly, the front of the station is currently under construction and I was forced to carry my two bags up a set of stairs into the station because all of the ramps were blocked off. I then got my ticket and onto the train without an issues. I was happy to see that Russia was being Russia on my way back to the airport. There was a woman across from me who had a cat on a leash with her. The cat looked unhappy and kept meowing at times and she just shushed it.

Russia doesn’t disappoint.

At the airport, I went through initial security with no comments. Last time, they made me turn my computer on at the first security check point. I then waited in a super long line to drop off my baggage. After dropping off my bags, I was told to cut the line and return to the window because I had to pay for my second bag, which can only be done at a separate window. When I put my first bag down to be weighed, I had a moment of anxiety. It turned out to weigh 22.9KG of the allowed 23KG. The man taking my bags laughed and asked if I had been very worried. He then complimented me on my packing skills. The second bag, a much smaller one, weighed less. I then went off to pay for my bag at the other window and was surprised by the even higher baggage fee. Years ago, there used to be two free checked bags between Moscow and New York. This is now down to one bag. In September, I paid $50 to check my extra bag (there is no other option when one bag is boots, coats, and hats to ward off the Russian winter). I was slightly shocked to find out that the new fee is 100 Euros because my flight originates in Moscow. In the future, it might be cheaper to initially book a more expensive seat on the plane in exchange for extra baggage allowance.

A very rainy departure. My friends and I joked that Russia was crying about me leaving.

My flight home was uneventful, but annoying. I’m sad to say that it was probably the worst flight I’ve ever taken on my beloved Aeroflot. The Boeing 777 was clearly one of the first ones that entered service on the airline. The seats were the cloth ones, and they were already worn out. The padding had been worn completely down on my seat to the point that the plastic sides of the seat were jamming into my ribs. The tray table was also worn out. In newer planes, the tray tables fold in half to accommodate for the larger seatback TV screen. Because my tray table had been used, and abused, so much, it folded out past its intended dimensions so that instead of being flat, it almost took the shape of and upside-down V. The result of this was that my food tray kept sliding off of the tray table. I could only eat my food with one hand, the other had to hold my try in place. Additionally, we took off in fairly heavy rain. The rain was so bad that when we took off, a lot of it leaked through the plane and onto me. I was fairly wet for a while, but dried off quickly due to how hot and dry it was in the cabin. Finally, I spent roughly 10 hours being kicked by the small child in the seat behind me and kept awake by the multitude of screaming babies and toddlers on the flight. In the summer season, there seem to be a lot of small children flying between New York and Moscow, which always results in unpleasant flights.

Thankfully my phone was in my hand and didn’t get soaked.

We landed without incident and I quickly passed through customs. Even if you only flight once or twice out of the country, I would highly recommend you get Global Entry if you qualify for it. It’s only $100 for 5 years, and it comes with TSA Pre-Check. I literally spent 30 seconds filling out my customs form, having my picture taken, and talking to the customs official. I then spent 45 minutes waiting for my bags because JFK is a crumbling, third world airport. Nothing says welcome to America like broken and dirty bathrooms and crumbling infrastructure. After getting my luggage and proceeding past the final customs point, I met my dad in the airport and we headed off to get pizza in the Bronx. Life is good, and I’ll be spending as much time as possible passed out in my hammock this summer.

Some post-Russia traditions are sacred.

Our train ride to Novosibirsk was uneventful. Our neighbors spoke briefly with us, but were mostly uninterested in us. We got a taxi to our hotel easily, and checked in early, which they didn’t charge us for. Normally it’s an extra charge, but the woman waved it as a present. She then said she would find out if we did or did not have to register there. After showering and changing, we headed off to an okay Mexican restaurant before going to a museum of Siberian architecture in a local design university. The museum mostly focuses on Novosibirsk and lots of the constructivist architecture in the city, but it also had examples of diagrams for typical Siberian wooden houses and plans for grandiose Soviet projects that were never built.

The Novosibirsk train station.

From the architecture museum, we went to the regional museum, which had an interesting series of exhibits on the history of Novosibirsk and the Trans-Siberian. Novosibirsk is a new city, only 124 years old, and exists only due to the railroad. Started as a railway settlement, it grew heavily during the years of Stalinist industrialization and industrial evacuation during WWII. At present, it’s the third largest city in Russia and is seen as the capital of Siberia. Despite these facts, there isn’t too much to see or do in Novosibirsk itself. It’s just a large, industrial center that doesn’t have too much of its own culture due to its youth.

Krasny Prospekt – the main road in Novosibirsk.

One of the highlights of Novosibirsk was where we got dinner, a hipster, new Russian cuisine restaurant called #сибирьсибирь (#SiberiaSiberia). I finally got to try bear meat, which was prepared in pelmeni. Erin had some deer medallions, which were divine. We also had a great salad of pine nuts, greens, local cheese, and pesto.

Bear meat pelmeni at #сибирьсибирь

After dinner, we went back to the hotel via a stop at a local craft beer place. While in line and trying to decide what to get, the very drunk Russian guy in front of us started to talk to us. He insisted on buying us beer, partially because we were Americans in Novosibirsk, and his daughter has just become an American citizen and lives in New York. He then tried to get us to join him and his friends at an apartment, but we declined and went back to our room, which we could only do after giving him our phone numbers. He also asked why we weren’t married and told us to get Russian husbands before letting us go on our way.

The train museum. Some railroads in Siberia still use these old steam engines.

In the morning, we got up and ate breakfast in the room, which we had gotten the night before, while deciding what to see before out train to Yekaterinburg. I texted a friend of a friend about going to see the German POW monument in a cemetery in a certain district of the city. The local travel guide had warned against going to that area, and she confirmed that it was not good to go there without someone from the area, so we scratched that plan. Instead, we went to Akademgorodok, which is a scientific and university center on the outskirts of the city. Along the way, we stopped at a great railroad museum. It was full of a series of trains from steam engines and tsarist rolling stock to more recent cars and engines. We were allowed to go into a few of the cars. A highlight, or scary part, was when we went into a 4th class carriage made in the 1930s. This car featured the exact same hardware as on the 069Ya, Chita-Moscow train. The beds were exactly the same, which was a little off putting.

1930s 4th class beds, the same design as on the Chita-Moscow train.

We also got to enter a car designed for transporting prisoners, which was rough. And we got to enter the cabs of a few steam engines, which was also really cool.

Inside a prison car.

The train museum also had a small collection of Soviet cars; however, it didn’t have any UAZiki, so it’s not really worth talking about as a Soviet car collection. Amateurs.

From the museum, we took a marshrutka to the center of Akademgorodok and got some lunch at a stolovaya and saw the university grounds before taking a taxi back to the hotel to get our stuff and go to the train. The train from Novosibirsk to Yekaterinburg was train 091, from Tomsk to Moscow. It was brand new and very fancy. It was comfortable, had air-conditioning, and plenty of outlets. As a new train, it also had biotoilets, which means you can use the toilet whenever. On the older trains, the “flush” just drops waste onto the tracks. Thus, there are sanitary zones a certain distance outside of cities. The toilets are locked during station stops and in these zones, so it’s not always possible to use the toilet on the older trains.

The modern goodness of the Tomsk-Moscow train.

Our train mates were quite the interesting bunch from Novosibirsk to Yekatrinburg. When we got on the train, we immediately attracted the attention of Nikolai, who was about 25 and quite drunk. He was excited to meet Americans and couldn’t believe that we were on the train. He then proceeded to tell people around him that there were Америкосы on the train. Amerikosy is slang for American, and is generally a derogatory term, but he seemed happy to meet us. He was from Tomsk and was riding off somewhere to work for Gazprom, the Russian gas company. He told us that we made a mistake not going to Tomsk, which he says is the best and prettiest city in Russia. “Come visit me, I have a motorcycle and will drive you around and show you the whole city,” he said multiple times. He promised to take us to the forest to gather mushrooms, which you can do from the motorcycle, and to take us fishing. We also had pleasant conversation with the slightly drunk Artyom, about 25, and Yura, about 45.

Nikolai discussing something of presumed importance.

Immediately across from us were Galya and her 7 year old son Kolya. Galya was very religious. Her husband is an Orthodox priest and she was going with her son to visit her parents in Vladimir. She is a doctor by education, but now sings professionally in the church. Her son, a very bright and kind child, studies in a private Orthodox school in Novosibirsk. He had his English workbook on the table, and we offered to help if he needed it. Galya was very sweet, excited to speak with us, and helped us out when the drunk Nikolai got too rowdy.

Yura, who gave me the switchblade.

Nikolai wanted us to drink beer with him. We were instead drinking kvass, the carbonated Russian bread drink (it’s literally made by squeezing water out of soaked bread). Eventually, with the help of Galya and Yura, Nikolai was ushered away and we were left to have more peaceful conversations with Galya, Yura, and Artyom. Yura was somewhat drunk, but he was a happy drunk. He was attempting to eat his sausage log to varying degrees of success. He started by just taking bites out, which he didn’t like. He couldn’t immediately find his knife, so he took a bottle cap and scooped out bite sized chunks of sausage. Eventually, he found his knife, a switch blade, and he asked us about life in American versus Russia. I don’t know what prompted it, but he told me to take his switch blade as a gift, and for protection. I politely declined at first, but he was adamant, so I took it. In exchange, I gave him a mostly empty pack of Marlboro Reds, which he was ecstatic to have. He made me write a note on the package for him.

After a while, we all went to sleep. Yura had a few issues. He folded down the table and put together his bed. He lay down and then mumbled to himself for a while. He asked for water, and Galya gave him some. He then went back to lying down and mumbling. After a few more minutes, he packed up his bedding, put the table down, and then made himself some instant noodles. Sometime after that, he went to sleep. Over the night, he got off of the train, and an Orthodox priest took his place. Galya had spoken with him in the earlier morning hours, and she introduced me to him after I woke up. He was pleasant to talk to, and was excited that two Americans were studying Russian history and riding out on the Trans-Siberian. He got off of the train a few stops before us. As he got off of the train, he blessed Galya and Kostya. He then turned to me and Erin and wished us success in our research and told us to return to Russia, “so that your souls can be happy.” I gladly accepted the blessing of sorts.

In the last few hours of our train ride, we spoke more with Galya. She offered us some hardboiled eggs and other food. She was surprised that we were getting off of the train alone in Yekaterinburg and taking a taxi to our hotel. When we arrived, though, we saw that it was easy to take a trolleybus from the train station to our hotel. We then checked in, showered, and changed before hitting the city.

Our first stop was a cup of coffee before heading to a comics shop that Erin had found through the internet. The comics shop was rad. I ended up buying two underground, trashy, locally produced comics, and the author/artist happened to be in the shop, so he signed one for me and drew a cool drawing in the other. I also got another Russian comic about bandy, which is also known as Russian hockey. Instead of a puck, bandy is played with a ball. The world bandy championships were held in Ulyanovsk in 2016. I was sad to have missed that.

Getting my comic improved by the author.

From the comics shop, we just strolled around the city for a while. The area along the riverside was pretty. We heard music coming from an underground crossing, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and went to investigated. In the underground crossing we found a guy playing guitar with a female drummer in a tunnel decorated with Viktor Tsoi graffiti. Tsoi is a super famous Soviet rocker who died in the 1980s. There’s a whole wall dedicated to him in Moscow just off of the Arbat. The duo played pretty well, and we listened to a few songs. A babushka came up and even dropped 100 rubles in their pot.

The river front in Yekaterinburg.

We made our way along the water to the Church on Blood. This church was built on top of the site where the Romanov family was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. The church was quite impressive inside, and it housed a lot of information of Communist persecution of Orthodoxy in the early Soviet reign and the Terror. They had an interesting collection of documents such as lists of all of the churches that were destroyed and how many priests were killed. From the local archives, they had quite a number of execution orders on display.

Monument to the Romanov family in front of the Church on Blood.

From the somber atmosphere of the church, we went off to get dinner at an Uzbek place recommended to us by Dakota, someone else who also has our grant, but spent the whole year in Yekaterinburg. The food was indeed super yummy. We then went to Jawsspace, which is a bar that sells the beer brewed by the local company Jaws. From there, we ventured to a different bar—Amerikanka (American Girl)—across from our hotel. The bar was mediocre. While finishing our drinks, a guy of about 55 came to talk to us after noticing we were speaking in English. He wanted us to join him and some students for drinks, but we politely extricated ourselves to pass out.

In the morning, we got up and had a delicious breakfast at a place called Engels Coffee and Waffles. They had great waffles such as a banana one or caramelized apples. I’m sure Engels is overjoyed that his likeness is being used to sell hipster foods. From breakfast, we swung back to the hotel to pack up our stuff and stash it in the storage room before walking off to see the Boris Yeltsin Center. On the way, we saw a fishing tournament taking place on the river.

Engels’ Coffee and Waffles

The Boris Yeltsin Center is fascinating, and very worth visiting. It’s a two story museum, as well as art gallery and multi-purpose space, that acts very much like an American presidential museum. The museum chronicles the life and work of Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia. He was from Yekaterinburg and rose to power there. The first floor of the museum describes the early life of Yeltsin, and the history of the USSR as a whole. Being a museum that celebrates the work of the guy who helped bring about and lead an independent Russia, its view of the communist years was quite grim. The second floor is organized around seven very important days of Yeltsin’s life such as a highly critical speech in front of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1987, the August Putsch of 1991, the Constitutional Crisis of 1993 (when Yeltsin called tanks to shell the Russian White House), Yeltsin’s health troubles, and his eventual resignation. We spent about three hours in the museum, and I could have easily spent the whole day there.

The Yeltsin Center.

From the Yeltsin Center, we walked a bit deeper into the center of the city to meet a former student of mine from the Ulyanovsk Politech, Zhanna, who had moved to Yekaterinburg after finishing university. She came with her husband and we walked around a few of the central parks. Along the way we saw a neat monument to the computer keyboard and some outdoors exhibits of industrial history from the time of Peter the Great to Stalinist industrialization. The weather wasn’t complying too much, so we ducked into a café to chat and have tea for a while.

With Zhanna. Say, “Политех лучше всех.”

It was nice to catch up with Zhanna. She and her husband walked us back to our hotel, where Erin and I met Dakota, another student with our grant. We popped into a nearby Vietnamese restaurant before ducking into another restaurant to hide from the rain and get another beer before Erin and I had to catch our train. We had a good time discussing our different graduate programs and the pros and cons of researching in different Russian cities and archives.

After doubling back to the hotel to grab our things, Erin and I headed to the train station for our final ride, a 30 hour one from Yekaterinburg to Moscow. On the platform, we started to talk with a guy from Kyrgyzstan, who had a spot near us on the train. As our train departed around midnight, Erin and I waited for the train to start rolling. The conductor came by and took our tickets and handed us our bedding, and then we pretty quickly both went to sleep. Before I could sleep, the Kyrgyz guy was asking me about how he could get to America and differences between life in Russia versus America. He thankfully left me alone when I said that I wanted to sleep. He was even kind and got my bed roll down for me. After I got settled into my bed, I noticed him hanging around a bit, so I pretended to go to sleep. I heard him catch Erin and start talking to her. He was thankfully pretty respectful and left her to let her sleep after about five minutes of talking. When we got up in the morning, he was gone.

Deep thoughts on the Trans-Siberian.

The ride back to Moscow wasn’t bad, but it was slightly unpleasant because we were on train 069Ya again, the Chita-Moscow train that was old. What was most annoying was our placement in the carriage. Our window was an emergency exit, so it did not open at all. Just walking a few feet over in the train was a relief from the heat and still air. The whole day on the train was fairly peaceful. We didn’t have neighbors most of the time, so we were left to our own devices. We read through our comics from Yekaterinburg. I ended up finishing some books and starting others. Over the course of the whole journey I read three novels, one monograph, one autobiography, a quarter of another novel, and about a third of “Doctor Zhivago” plus three short Russian comics. If you ever need to catch up on reading, take a trip on the Trans-Siberian. I haven’t “read” that much since preparing for dissertation qualifying exams.

Platskart life: dodging feet and shirtless Russian men.

During the full day on the train, we stepped out onto the platforms at station stops. At one station, the train was much longer than the platform. As we were in one of the first carriages, we walked off of the train and had to step down onto some parallel rail lines to get to the ground.

When the train is too long for the platform.

After some moderate boredom, and looking for a change of scenery, we walked to the restaurant car to have a beer. We managed not to die walking between the cars, which is always scary. On the way back to our carriage, we were walking through one car when the train had made a quick stop. The provodnitsa in that car was trying to sell some people some souvenirs. I waited a bit for her to stop blocking the aisle. Eventually she looked at me and said, “You can’t get out at this stop.” I responded that I didn’t want to get out, but that we were trying to walk back to our car, which was a different one. She seemed moderately annoyed by us walking through her carriage, and eventually let us pass.

The funky restaurant car.

The only really bad thing about our return to Moscow was the time that our train got in, a little after 4:00AM. I was rudely shaken awake at 2:30AM by a sadistic provodnik. At first, I thought it was the guy from the bed above mine being bad at getting in or out of bed. Instead, it was our warning to get up and use the bathrooms before they were locked before Moscow. I went to the toilet and then went back to sleep, only to again be violently shaken awake by the provodnik at 3:30 when he handed me my ticket. I then stayed awake as we rolled in to Yaroslavsky Vokzal. We got off of the train, and I called a Yandex Taxi to my dorm, as the Metro wasn’t to open for an hour.

My taxi was quite the adventure. My driver was Turkish, which I found out later, and spoke terrible Russian. He called me when he “arrived” and told me he was near a black car, to which I responded that there were many black cars. I said that I was by KFC, in both English and Russian, multiple times and explained that it was a chicken restaurant. He eventually understood and drove to find me. I’m not sure where he was originally, but it was quite far from the front of the station. In the cab, he asked where I was from. I said America. He then asked what nationality I was, to which I replied American. Unsatisfied, he asked where my mother was from. I said that she, and my grandparents, had been born in America. This did not please him either. He asked what nationality she was. I explained that she was German, Swedish, and Slovak. I said that I also had German, Russian, Norwegian, and Irish ancestry on my father’s side. He then asked if my relatives still live in Russia, to which I replied no. He couldn’t understand why I was in Russia or that I no longer really have family here. He asked what I was doing—studying I said. He asked if I wanted a Turkish boyfriend. Fearing where the conversation would go, I lied and said I already had a boyfriend. This then got him to ask why he wasn’t here in Russia. I lied again and said he had work in America and couldn’t come. The driver then proceeded to fail to properly listen to the navigation in the car and go the wrong way to the dorm, so I had to direct him myself. He then asked what school it was. Finally, as I managed to leave, he asked if I was going to rate him. I lied and said I would give him a 5 out of 5. Instead, I gave him a 3 and said that he doesn’t speak Russian well and can’t use the navigation.

Back in Moscow. 4AM and the sun is already up.

I then wandered into the unlocked dormitory door without any issues, used my keycard on the turn style, came into the dorm, and passed out on my bed for a few hours of extra sleep before handling re-registration and heading off to an archive for a few hours.

May 9th, or Victory Day (День Победы, Den’ Pobedy), is a major Russian holiday at commemorates Soviet victory in World War Two in the European theater of war. The first Victory Parade was held in Moscow at Red Square on June 24, 1945. After that, though, Victory Day was not a holiday, and did not become so until 1965 and the 20th anniversary of the ending of WWII. During the Brezhnev era, the Soviet victory over fascism became a point of stability and self-worth for the Soviet government. It was under Brezhnev that the Cult of WWII became a phenomenon and part of Soviet society. Major parades on Victory Day, though, were reserved for large anniversaries of the date. Only four Victory Parades took place in the Soviet Union, in 1945, 1965, 1985, and 1990. The major military parades were saved for the anniversary of the October Revolution, which was celebrated on November 7th (when the Revolution took place, the Russians still used the Julian calendar; the Soviets switched the nation over to the Gregorian calendar). Under Putin, however, the Victory Day parade has become a staple, and the Cult of WWII has regained a prominent place in Russian society. As a fan of military technology and the stereotypical images of tanks and ICBMs rolling down Red Square, it was a dream come true to be in Moscow for Victory Day.

ICBM in downtown Moscow. No big deal.

Due to the importance of the event, a number of practices are held in the weeks leading up to the parade. One night after Taekwondo, Jean Louis found out about the practice, so we headed off to Red Square around 9:45PM in the cold and rain. We were able to stand near the Okhotnoy Ryad Metro entrance and see all of the tanks parked and ready to roll onto Red Square. As we stood under the rain, we heard the soldiers on Red Square shout “УРА” (Hooray) before the machines started up and rolled past us. It was absolutely unreal to stand meters away from moving tanks, missile launchers, and ICBMs. It’s one thing to see them in museums, but it’s completely different to feel the sidewalk shaking underfoot as the trundle past at speed.

A few days later, I managed to see another practice off of Tverskaya Ulitsa, one of the main roads in downtown Moscow. This practice was held earlier in the evening, or rather, I saw the technology roll by closer to 7:00PM. They would then wait outside of Red Square and would again drive onto Red Square after 10:00PM, once the soldiers had finished their marches. I went with two of my dorm neighbors, Gustav and Linda, and we were again very lucky to get right up to the barricade near the Mayakovskaya Metro stop. This repetition was even better because it was daylight. Because we were at the spot where the tanks turn off of the Garden Ring and onto Tverskaya, there were some gaps in the procession and differences in speed of the vehicles. Trying to catch up to the ones ahead, some of the tanks were clearly driving at full speed when they went past. You could see the damage they were doing to the pavement.

On Sunday morning, I had been having brunch with Jean Louis on the 8th floor. While we were cleaning up, we got the surprise of a lifetime with the practice for the aerial portion of the parade. Our dormitory is right under the flight path towards Red Square, and the planes were just overhead. The view from the kitchen window was perfect. I geeked out as I saw a number of really cool planes fly over, such as an Antonov An-124 Ruslan (the largest military transport plane in the world), and the Tupolev Tu-95 bomber. The Tu-95 is known as the Bear bomber according to NATO, and it is Russia’s equivalent to the B-52. It’s the USSR/Russia’s strategic long-range bomber that can drop nukes and conventional bombs as well as fire cruise missiles. Unlike the B-52, which is jet powered, the Tu-95 features 4 turbo-prop engines with 8 contra-rotating propellers.

A trio of Tu-95s.

It’s one of the fastest propeller driven aircraft and is also one of the loudest military aircraft. The noise of them flying overhead was deafening. You could hear them from really far off, and that must have been somewhat what it was like to live through the Blitz, hearing propeller bombers approaching from far off. The sound meant that nothing good could be coming. There was also a sweet flyover of various fighter jets and bombers, which were in great patterns. The final planes dropped smoke in the color of the Russian flag, which was great.

On Victory Day itself, I woke up at 6:30 so that I could leave the dorm at 7:00 to head off to Tverskaya, one of the main roads in Moscow to try to watch the military vehicles parade down the roads. The major ceremony takes place at Red Square, but only diplomats, veterans, and special guests can go to see the parade in person. It’s an invitation only event. Myself and a few others braved the cold weather and rain to head to the same spot on Tverskaya just past the Mayakovskaya Metro stop to catch the machinery roll by before parking off of Red Square. The official ceremony starts at 10:00AM. We figured we could see the stuff and then wait for the planes to fly over.

When we got there around 7:30, we spoke to a few cops and they said that the stuff had already gone by at around 7:00 if not earlier. While deliberating what to do, Jean Louis was briefly interview for some Russian TV channel. Slightly discouraged by the lack of tanks, we walked by foot in the direction of Red Square to see how close we could get. The closest, near the Teatralnaya Metro stop, didn’t give us views of anything. The others talked about maybe going to one particular spot, and I wasn’t sure what would or wouldn’t be visible from there.

I walked back to the dorm to have a quick chat with the security guards about going on the roof. The guy in the first building said that he didn’t have a key to the roof, and to ask the guys in the main building. He told me to tell him if the other guards had the key, because he also wanted to go on the roof to watch the planes fly over. So I went off to the main building and asked the guard there if he had a key to the roof so that we could watch the planes. He said that he didn’t have it, and that he himself had been searching for it for the same reason. I wished him a happy holiday, and he said he would unlock the main door for me to leave. We then stood there for a solid minute while he tried to unlock the door. Once again, I was reminded at how deadly every exit to the university potentially is.

On the street, I ran into an acquaintance named Anna. She said she was waiting for her friend Dasha, and that they were going to go to Tverskaya together to watch the tanks. I said that I had been told that they had already gone by, and she said that was crazy. By this time it was already nearing 9:00AM. She said that the first vehicles, such as the T-34 tank on a trailer (70+ year old tanks aren’t meant to drive miles down the roads of Moscow), were probably what had gone by.

The T-34 gets special treatment. It was the tank that won WWII, and the first to use sloped armor.

We then set off to the Mayakovskaya station to get a spot and wait for Dasha. When we got to the station, a cop was announcing on a megaphone that the tanks had already gone by, and he listed a few places for us to go to see them, once of which was where the others had gathered.

We hopped on the Metro and rode to the center, to a station where there are four stations together. It turns out that we could only exit from one of them, which means we had to walk through basically three others to get to the street. We exited at Arbatskaya and stood in a fairly thick crowd. By chance, another acquaintance, Dima, was there and saw me. He said hello and told us how to join up with the others, so we quickly walked off and wound up on a hill overlooking the exit of the Kremlin, right were the vehicles would leave the Kremlin and drive up and through the city.

Sadly, from that point it’s impossible to see the foot soldiers. The parade of vehicles was just as cool as when I saw the various repetitions. On one hand, the practices were better because I was closer to the vehicles, but it’s something else to see them rolling with the Kremlin walls in the background.

С Днём Победы! Happy Victory Day!

As soon as the tanks passed, the police made announcements for the crowd to disperse. Due to the poor weather, the planes had been cancelled. Some people were saying that it was the coldest Victory Day ever. While I’m not sure of that, I do know that it was indeed cold. On the 8th, it alternated between raining heavily and snowing. I thought that this was intentional. The Russians do something to the clouds to push them out of the sky and cause them to rain before and after the holiday so that the skies are clear on the holiday itself. They either didn’t do it, or it was too cold and the clouds were too saturated. The temperature on Victory Day ranged from the mid-30s to the mid-40s Fahrenheit, and it rained on and off for most of the day. The weather was evidently bad enough that they decided not to do the fly overs. Slightly dejected, we wandered off to get food. We wound up back by Pushkin Square, which was filled with a parade for various political parties including the Communist Party and one that was for the restoration of the monarchy.

Lenin Lived. Lenin Lives. Lenin Will Live.

I wound up getting a photo with some Communist pilots, who I think used to fly for Aeroflot.

With my new pilot friends.

After getting cut off a few times, we eventually wound up in a good cafeteria where we all chowed down and regained some energy. We then walked to the Hermitage Garden, where there was a smaller collection of Victory Day activities. There were a number of old GAZ Volga cars, and there was a Ural motorcycle that we could sit on. There was a concert of military music, and there was a special ceremony of thanks and recognition for a few veterans of WWII. There are still a few of them around, and they were proudly enjoying the day’s activities. From there, we walked back to RGGU to have tea and rest up for other activities.

To Berlin!

Around 7:15, Jean Louis asked if I wanted to get dinner with him. We walked to the store and got some booze and then grabbed some food from McDonald’s, which we ate in the 9th floor kitchen. Izaro was making herself pasta, and Étienne was sitting and having a cup of noodles. Jean Louis then invited him to the fireworks. Gustav also joined us, and we hopped in the metro to ride off to Park Pobedy, Victory Park. The show was supposed to start at 10:00, so we left before 9:00. When we changed stations at Kievskaya, we all piled into an overcrowded car for the one stop to Victory Park. In the station, we met up with Dima, and then we proceeded out and to the park. To get into the park we had to wait in line to go through metal detectors. The crowd was pretty tight getting through security, but once we were inside it was OK, as the park is huge. We then met up with the Italians and two Germans. At 10:00, the fireworks began and lasted for about ten or fifteen minutes.

This might be slightly better than the 4th of July.

Leaving the park was quite difficult. As soon as the fireworks ended, people rushed the exits. We went towards the exit, but all movement stopped pretty quickly. We stood unmoving for quite some time. We then tried to see if we could go out a different exit, but it had been blocked. We were essentially locked into the park by police barricades. Only after a while did they open the main barricade that was stopping us. We got shuffled and pushed towards the exit with the mob. We unfortunately lost two of our friends in the process. As we approached the entrance to the metro, the mob was bonkers. We were being crushed and pushed from every direction as everyone rushed to get down the stairs. Once a few steps into the metro entrance, however, the crowd dispersed and we were able to have some space to ourselves and make sure everyone was there to head home.

Packed metro. All of these people were exiting the station.

In total, Victory Day was absolutely fantastic. I fulfilled a dream of mine to be in Moscow on Victory Day, which is everything I had hoped it would be and more. I also walked 13 miles over the course of the day, so my body feels like one of the tanks rolled over me. And now I have to leave for the former Party Archive, where I will spend my day reading about POWs. Life is never dull as a WWII historian.

Last night I went to see one of my favorite bands, Trubetskoy. Well, they’re actually the remains of one of my favorite bands, Lyapis Trubetskoy. After the band’s 25th anniversary, they basically dissolved. One of the singers went and formed the band Brutto, while the other singer and a few other members, such as the guitarist, went on to tour as just Trubetskoy. Lyapis Trubetskoy started out as much more of a ska influenced band, and they got progressively more rock and metal over the years. They hail from Minsk, Belarus, and have also become far more political in their messages and lyrics over the years.

К нам приехал Тубецкой!

I’m a pretty huge fan of the band. I listen to their music quite frequently. I saw them play in Ulyanovsk five years ago, when they were still Lyapis Trubetskoy, and my department cubicle and apartment in Pittsburgh are decorated with their posters.

Lyapis Trubetskoy posters from Ulyanovsk and a map of Ulyanovsk are what every home needs.

 

The concert was held in a very small club venue called Club Theatre. I went with Anne-Marie. I got her a ticket for the show as a birthday present. We had celebrated her birthday in the dorm with the full crew, and a good night it was. The pièce de résistance of the night was the surprise made by two of the other French Canadians – poutine. One had produced a packet of gravy for the poutine. The other fried up the french fries from scratch, and some Russian cheeses were used as a passable substitute for cheese curds. It was delicious and wonderful.

Poutine à la russe.

Before we went to the venue, we went to a nearby Georgian restaurant called Chito-Ra. I had found it by chance by looking for restaurants near the concert on Yandex maps. I later found out that a friend considers it to be the best Georgian restaurant in Moscow. When we got there, the place was packed, and we had to wait about 10 or 15 minutes before we could sit. The food was indeed excellent. We got my favorite khacipuri, khachipuri po adjarski, which is a delightfully decadent bread boat filled with melted cheese and a cracked egg on top. We also split an order of khinkali, Georgian dumplings, filled with a mixture of beef and pork and greens.

Georgian for the win.

From the restaurant, we walked over to the club and waited in the hallway for about 30 minutes before being allowed to walk onto the floor. The hall was tiny, which was nice because we were fairly close to the group. At about 8:30PM an opening act took the stage. They were a ska group called Faktory, and they were pretty good. They had some funny songs about social media and another about taking selfies and selfie sticks.

Around 9:00PM, Turbetskoy took the stage and opened up with their anthem and signature starting song “Trubetskoy,” which fans had been chanting the lyrics of while waiting for the group to strat. “К нам приехал Трубецкой; он как Моцарт но живой” (Trubetskoy came to us; he’s like Mozart, but alive). The chorus goes on to list a number of famous musicians in various repetitions such as Lennon, Joplin, Hendrix, and Elvis.

They gave a lively show for about 90 minutes that included a two song encore. They pretty much stuck to playing songs from two of the later Lyapis Trubetskoy albums, Kapital and Manifest, while also mixing in some of their newer songs. They sadly didn’t play my favorite song of theirs, “Kapital,” but they did play some of my other favorites like “Ogon’ki,” the video of which is what led me to discover the band. Even if you don’t understand Russian/Belorussian, I highly implore you to watch the two following videos. “Ogon’ki” or “Lights” has an interesting collage of Soviet nostalgia.

Kapital is a fun play on the modern world versus the era of Communism. I just love the chorus that says, “In my left hand a Snickers; in my right hand a Mars; my PR manager is Karl Marx; Capital.” This video has English subtitles.

 

The crowd at this particular concert was also interesting. There seemed to be more women in the crowd than men. Those attending were dressed in a mixture of regular flannel and jeans casual to full punk vests and plaid pants. There was also one very creepy spectator, who freaked out me and Anne-Marie. He was dressed in a jester’s outfit, and sat in the smoking area and just stared at people. We both had moments of legitimate fear upon seeing him. There was a really intense mosh pit at the show, but thankfully we were insulated by a few rows of people in front of us who intercepted the stray moshers.

Scary jester guy in the background. Zoom in for full effect.

I was slightly worried about getting home after the concert. As of the first of the month, there is a new security firm with the contract for the university. We’ve got all new guards, some of whom dress like nightclub bouncers in cheap suits. In general, they seem friendlier at first than the previous guards. I’m just slightly upset because now I have to forge all new relationships with the guard staff. In addition to getting new guards, we also have a new curfew. Previously the dorm closed at 1:00AM, which was fine with me because that’s when the metro stops running. Now, though, the dorm supposedly closes at 11:00PM. We were not notified of this change by anyone at the university, only through trial and error and word of mouth from people trying to enter or leave between 12:30 and 1:00. Before heading out, I asked the guard when the dorm closes. He said that it is indeed now at 11:00. I said I was going to a concert and wasn’t sure when it would end. He said it was ok, that if there was a problem, there’s a buzzer by the door (it took me a long time to find it when heading out), and to ring that if there was a problem with the door being closed. They’re not very punctual, though, because the door was still open around 11:15 or so when I came back.

In general, the earlier curfew is a problem. In Ulyanovsk, the dorm also closed at 11:00PM, but there the public transit stopped running around 9:00PM. My current options are to lead a very boring life and always return home by 11:00PM; be extra crazy and stay out until 6:00AM, when the doors reopen; sneak through the crack in the vehicle gate, which is under video surveillance; or to climb over an 8 foot wall between some buildings on the periphery of the university campus. I’m not entirely thrilled by any of these options.

I also have succeeded in achieving a massive personal victory in the wake of last week’s somewhat depressing situation with the DDT concert. I complained to the ticket office about how thousands of us were left out on the street in the rain while the concert started. My complaints there got me nowhere, but I also complained to the band’s tour manager, whose email address I found on their website. After a few days, he responded. Apparently my Russian complaining skills are at a very high level. He apologized for the situation and offered me tickets to any other DDT show in 2017. I responded that the offer is nice, but was also useless unless the band had any other planned concert dates in Moscow or America that were not listed on their website. Currently, the site shows only concerts in Siberia in April, one show in London, and a few shows in Israel in June. I said that it was meaningless to offer free tickets if I had to fly to a different city or country and also pay to spend a night or two there. He then answered that the band will be at a festival in Moscow in July, sadly after I already leave, and that the band is in talks to finalize a concert in New York in October. I said I would go for the October tickets, and I’m to email the guy in September to set that all up. My faith in DDT as a a group that cares about its fans has been restored.

We are sorry about the entrance problems, we apologize, and offer you tickets to any DDT concert in 2017.

On late Sunday afternoon I met Erin in the Prospekt Mira metro stop to go to the ДДТ (DDT) concert. DDT is one of the best known late-Soviet, early Russian Federation rock groups. They were mostly based out of Leningrad, today’s St. Petersburg, and have always had fairly political messages in their music.

We went to an Indian restaurant that was in the lobby of a hotel near the stadium before the concert. The food was pretty good. The staff was funny there. When we asked for the food, we said we wanted it to be spicy, and not Russian spicy, which means not spicy at all. She then asked if we wanted Indian spicy, and we responded that we didn’t want it quite that hot. When we finished our meal, the coat check guy asked if we were from America. He then said his friend had invented something for cars and he wants to patent it there. We said we didn’t really know patent law, but we said he should give it a try. He then asked if we knew a program where people design things and get to show them to potential investors. I told him that in English it’s called “Shark Tank” and he asked me to write it down for him.

The concert was both wonderful and miserable at the same time. The tickets said that it started at 7:00. We had just general admission tickets for the floor space. We arrived somewhere around 6:30 and the doors were still shut. There were literally thousands of people standing on the street in the rain. At that point, I suddenly realized why the ОМОН (OMON), aka the Russian SWAT/Riot police were the ones in charge of crowd control. We kept standing and every now and then the line would shuffle a few feet forwards.

The crowd before us to get in at 7:22PM.

Around 7:30 or so, it seemed that the concert began while at least half of the crowd was still outside of the stadium.

The crowd behind us at 7:22.

There were no announcements made about what was going on at all. I took to checking Twitter and Instagram to find a mixture of people in the stadium demanding the group come on stage and angry rants of those stuck in the mob with us. I killed time by engaging with a fellow enraged mob member through Twitter, and posted my angry photo on social media with the caption “Что такая очередь” (what is line), a pun on one of DDT’s most famous songs “Что такое осень” (what is autumn).

Twitter and Instagram were full of these. The caption says “‘Wonderfully’ organized concert – 1.5 hours after the start and thousands of viewers on the street.”

After about two hours of standing in line in the cold and rain, we approached the entrance. As we got closed, we were literally crushed in the crowd. Erin and I both remarked at how dangerous the situation was, and how we’ve rarely felt uncomfortable like that at concerts. You also begin to realize in situations like that, or just generally around in Russia, that most places here are death traps. Emergency exits are often locked or blocked in this country, and like lifeboats on the Titanic, there aren’t nearly enough.

At the door, we showed our tickets and passed through metal detectors and a bag check. We then went around to a different line where we had to get wrist bands before being let onto the floor to see the show. Unfortunately, we didn’t know about the wrist bands, which were off to the side, and had to go around some barriers and back. The organization of this concert was non-existent. It was held at the Олимпийский Стадион, Olympic Stadium, which was built for the 1980 Olympics. There was no indication of when or where people should go, and there are internet rumors that the organization was intentionally botched as a sign/punishment towards Yuri Shevchuk, the openly political and critical leader singer of the band.

Once inside, the concert was fantastic. The band was lively and played a steady stream of music plus two encore songs. They must have finished close to 10:30, so they gave a three hour concert, which is a pretty impressive feat. I got to hear them play a number of their most famous songs, including Последный Осень (Last Autumn, which I jokingly called the lesser Осень), but sadly I didn’t get to see them perform my favorite Что Такое Осень (What is Autumn). I’m not sure if they played it earlier in the show of if they oddly decided not to play one of their biggest hits. One of the encore songs was my second favorite song of theirs, Родинда (Motherland), so I was somewhat placated.

Red for Rodina.

Nonetheless, it felt like a sucker punch to miss half of the show. I was even more disappointed when I checked the news after the show. Yuri Shevchuck and the band knew that there were thousands of fans on the street who couldn’t enter the stadium, yet they decided to start the show anyway. The moral of the story is the DDT is great to see live, but anything at the Olympic Stadium should be avoided.

Other than the concert, there’s not much else to report. Work is progressing as usual in the archives. Watching Russian TV has once again proven itself to be useful for my research. I started watching a series called Мажор (Silver Spoon) on Netflix. It’s overly melodramatic and some of the plot points are over the top, but it has its uses. From a cultural standpoint, it’s a fascinating show because it’s about the son of an oligarch who begins to work for the police after some rather improbable situations. Part of the plot involves shady goings on of gangsters in the 1990s and there’s something about an oligarch connected to crime who is untouchable because he’s a member of the Duma. Only the first season is on Netflix, but the second season is available without subtitles on youtube for those who are fluent in Russian. The language of the show has also paid off. From it, I learned the word for autopsy (вскрытие), which came in handy when I stumbled upon some autopsy reports of German POWs in a collection of files of the Department for Repatriation in GARF. Watching countless hours of television has its uses when it’s in a foreign language.

Life in the dorms is fairly quiet with the exception of continuous problems with new neighbors. The French and Germans smoke in their rooms, the kitchen, and the toilet, which is unpleasant for those of us who don’t smoke. After getting into trouble for doing so, which is forbidden in the dorms, some have begun to burn incense in their rooms to try to hide the smell. As a result, the dorm halls and some of the rooms smell like a terrible mixture of cigarettes and lavender. We also have one neighbor who is about 50 and speaks only Russian and German. Based on a few conversations with her, I’m pretty sure grew up in the former East Germany in a Russian family. She speaks Russian with a slight accent, and one of the Germans said that her German also has an accent. She had some very strange comments about my research and the post-war development of West Germany, which were of a standard Marxist-Leninist perspective. She has decided that we are now friends, which is annoying for me, and also terrible when I went to leave my room at 10:00PM one night and found her standing outside of my door. I’m hoping she had just arrived as was about to knock and that she hadn’t been just standing outside my door for an unknown length of time.

I’ve also had a few good days of food lately. While over at Alla’s one day for blini, she invited me over again to have dinner with the Canadians and to bake with her. The main course for our feast was roast leg of lamb that Alla gets from a specialty market.

Om nom nom.

Alla became interested in my signature baked good for family functions, a key lime pie from my grandmother’s recipe. She was eager to try it, so I converted the ingredients into metric and headed over earlier than the others to bake the pie. I had to slightly modify the ingredients as well. I usually use cream of tartar for the meringue, but I had to try a corn starch one for Russia. The result was pretty decent, but not quite up to my usual pie. I guess this just means I will need to bake more. What a terrible burden.

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.

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