Almost a year late, but still worth recording.

August 5, 2011

We’re in NYC! Not where we wanted to be, but who’s complaining? Took off around 6:30 this morning to catch the 11:15 flight. Nathan was kind enough to drive us all the way to Cincinnati, so tell him he’s wonderful next time you see him. Flight 1 was uneventful other than the serving of BOTH peanuts and cookies, for which we were grateful. In JFK we tried to work out a way to go into the city for our 4-hour layover. ARG, however, had not yet finished pitching the idea before her mother (on the phone) responded with an emphatic “NO.” So we stuck around, munchin $10 sandwiches, til the 5:00 flight to Moscow left without us. Then we arranged to spend the night at the apartment of ARG’s friend, who is currently summering in Vermont. Her dad is here working, which is apparently how summering works. Celia warned us that he’s not very nice, but he’s not here now. We hope to be asleep before he returns. Now ARG is on the phone with her mom trying to scout out a good place for supper. Sounds like Vietnamese.

Oh, also–in JFK, they’ve got dozens of iPads set up for you to use while you wait for your flight. For free! That’s how we discovered a Shel Silverstein tribute tonight in Central Park. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the MTA would not deliver us on time to the apartment–we arrived at the East Side apartment after the Shel Silverstein thing had started. Plus it was raining, so the show was probably cancelled anyway. Bummer. But not much of one, because WE’RE IN NEW YORK!

Right. Vietnamese food was awesome. We shared a tofu coconut curry and bought a Ritter-Sport chocolate bar (Knusperkeks, my favorite), making our fancy night on the town ring in at $10/person. The city, as would be expected, is perplexing and thrilling, but it’s strange to see evidence that people actually live their daily lives here. And yet drugstores and doctors abound. We bought some vitamins, since we’ve both heard only awful things about Russian cuisine, and htey were chewy. Also, I saw a 4-room apartment with monthly rent of $16,000. Good thing I have no desire to live here. 

August 6, 2011

Perhaps someday we’ll look back and laugh about today. Maybe. We woke up, showered, and bought cream cheese bagels for breakfast before setting off for Central Park. We found some Hans Christian Andersen statues there that were very nice–my favorite was of him reading “The Ugly Duckling” to a duck. On the far side of the park we saw a rather long line, so we decided to see what all the fuss was about. It took us a good 10 minutes to reach the front of the line, which turned out to be for free admission to the Met. Another line, just as long, extended on the other side past the Guggenheim, which was not quite so popular, and the Russian consulate! At one point we found the Czech cultural center, which had an exhibit of folk art. It was closed, but we still wandered around, peeked through windows at the Czech library, and picked up some postcards with naked people on them (Slavs…). Then we were both feeling second breakfast, so we stopped at a cafe and split coffee and a blueberry scone. After a bit more aimless wandering we went back to Celia’s to collect our things. Got some mediocre but authentic pizza to eat as we waited for the bus. This was at about 12:30. I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but suffice to say it’s about a 5-transfer journey from Celia’s apartment to JFK. At Penn St we were making good time, so we decided to walk through Times Square on the way to catch the cheaper train. The cheaper train, despite no previous warning, was closed today. So we had to backtrack and take a different line. We then missed our last-resort train (after buying tickets, of course) that, according to the timetable, runs hourly. As we attempted to give our tickets away, someone informed us that it came again in 2 minutes. SO we ran, made it, and all was well, except that we arrived at the airport about 15 minutes after the plane started boarding. Despite the best efforts of a very kind “helpful person”, as ARG calls them, we didn’t make it onto the flight. ARG is off trying to get us back to ATL so we don’t have to stay here another day. I”ll let you know how that goes. Oh, and she thinks she has strep. 

Right. So we’re not flying to ATL yet, but we may or may not go in the morning. ARG found a better route back to Celia’s, but since it’s Sunady night and the closed line that caused us to miss our flight is still closed, it still took us 2.5 hours. So it’s 10:00, and we need supper. Celia’s darling mother told us where the laundry is, so we hopefully won’t arrive in Russia with no clean clothes. 

We had a delicious salad sampler at a Yemeni/Israeli restaurant that we arrived at just as they closed, but they served us anyway. Divine hummus, babaganouj, tabbouleh, Turkish tomato salad, and pickled stuff with flatbread. 

August 8, 2011

We’re not at Duane Reade (Yankee CVS) so ARG can get a strep test. I just got back from buying obscenely expensive bagels, which we plan to top with vegetables for breakfast and lunch. A woman at the clinic asked if we were backpacking around NYC (we get asked that a lot, actually…I thought it wasn’t possible to stick out in New York). We told her a brief version of our story, and it turns out she returned from Moscow yesterday! She was visitng her brother, who’s teaching there. She gave us her leftover rubles, which was very kind. 

August 9, 2011

Well, we made it, and in first class, no less! Pretention abounded. We enjoyed a 3-course meal, followed by tiramisu and port. The pilot greeted us with “Welcome aboard Delta flight 30 to Moscow. If Moscow is not your destination today, it is now.” Oh dear. Arrived ahead of schedule, descending through a thick layer of smog. Customs consisted of ARG eating our remaining produce (a disappointing green pepper–but then, we weren’t so fresh either after 10 hours on a plane) and tossing the leftover bagels. Unfortunately, “customs” did not ask us a single question or give a rip what was in our bag. Now I really wish we’d saved the bagels, as we didn’t have time for lunch in Moscow before catching the train to Kaluga. On the bright side, that means we successfully navigated the Moscow underground and, with only 2 wrong tickets, 5 failed ATM attempts, and 6 Muscovites who now think we’re idiots, found our only slightly janky train. But now we have 3000 rubles each, and, as ARG keeps pointing out, the only thing that matters is that we’re on this train. We’ve been on it for maybe 10 minutes, and our 5th vendor is attempting to sell us…what? I don’t know. On the flight, I watched Water for Elephants and part of Rio in Russian and started an American movie set in Berlin in German, but didn’t finish it. Slept for maybe an hour and woke up over Latvia. Muscovites are only as helpful as absolutely necessary to avoid overt meanness, but if you ask enough of them, you eventually get where you’re going. When I wasn’t sure which metro line to take, I asked a friendly-looking (ha) neighbor, who replied, “read the sign!” At the station, an equally helpful person responded to my question  as to where one might buy a ticket for the elektrichka to Kaluga with, “In the train station!” You cannot make this up. 

It didn’t really sink in where we were or where we were headed until we got off the train in Kaluga. Anna picked us out before we even reached the end of the platform and brought us to her car. Russians seem to consider lanes guidelines at best, and the primary function of crosswalks is target practice. Anna drove conscientiously, but it was still terrifying. THe house has a gated front yard where 3 ravens, a dog with 3 puppies, a tropical bird, various unidentified fowl, and a falcon live. THe house is dark, musty, comfortable, and seems to go on forever, with 2 kitchens, at least 5 classrooms in various states of renovation, a theater room where Anna got married, a living room, and an office. Nikolaj, his wive Ljudmila, their 5 adopted sons, and for now a German volunteer live here. Nikolaj and the German are in the village where the garden is, along with 3 of the sons. We arrived ,go acquainted, and made a cuke/mater salad to accompany Ljudmila’s chicken pasta. Then ARG and I checked e-mail, walked around the block, and attempted to figure out the leaky sink and selectively flushing toilet. Now ARG is in the main house showering. Off to sleep. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to eat regularly. 

Oh, and my bed just broke. 

August 10, 2011

They say a guest should always be awake and dressed before their hosts, so we woke up at 7. but since ARG is ARG, we didn’t wind up leaving our room until 8:30. We ran into Nikolaj in the courtyard, and he helped us get out leftovers, bread, and butter for breakfast. He also said we were like babushki (grandmas), getting up as early as 9. So much for 7:00. He eventually joined us for breakfast (although, owing to the significant language barrier, we didn’t wait for him to stat eating), and put my Russian to the test, chastising me when my comprehension wasn’t up to par. We drank tea for brotherhood and chatted about the tastiness of life. Nikolaj finds life tasty in Russia, but thinks that Americanization has rendered life in Europe untasty. I told him that many Americans have a similar opinion of Russians. Cold War, why do you linger? After breakfast and a bit of hanging out in the living room (lots of books!), two of the teachers came and met us. Natasha kindly took us on a tour of the cold, rainy city. We saw the governor’s house, the church (where we lit candles for ARG’s health and annoyed a babushka by getting wax in the holy water), the River Oka (where you can’t swim), a Ferris wheel, and lots of fountains. Natasha was surprised when we waved at drivers who let us cross; she said that outside of the south, Russians have lost their culture, although their Waldorf school seeks to combat this. Now we’re back, changed, and ARG is drawing with a compass as we boil water to drink. 

We accidentally slept through lunch, but the kind but impatient hired cook left soup on the stove for us and showed me where everything was. After lunch, Nikolaj took us out to the farm, about 45 minutes away (but we stopped a few times for groceries and such). We barely spoke at all–I think he’s appalled at the state of my Russian. I wish he were more understanding of my efforts, but, as ARG predicted, he’s a very opinionated sort. We eventually pulled off into waht looked like a little dead-end dirt road. After another such turn, we found ourselves on a little forest path with potholes the size of bathtubs. But eventually we arrived in Fairyland. Olga, a teacher, and Jacqueline (the German) showed us around, and we set up sleeping bags in the structure. Then it was teatime (польник), where we had leftover soup (root veggies–very watery borscht?) and bread. Then it was off to feed the horses by cutting grass with a sickle. The horses are kept on lines, but Apora cut her foot badly with it, so she stays in the paddock. The gardens have potatoes, pumpkins, HUGE beets, and some pathetic corn, plus tomatoes, cukes, and peppers in the hoophouses. We talk a lot with Olga and Jacqueline, since we all speak English. For supper we had macaroni with cheese and canned pork. At least it was sustenance. Before bed we have teatiem again (чёрный чай), where we sing songs, hang out, eat cookies, and do yea Gods. ARG and I sang “May the Circle,” and then we took requests for “Old McDonald” and “Jingle Bells”, which Olga has taught her students. The dogs, Buran and Bob, are hilarious. Every day, Bob eats Buran’s food, so BUran spends the whole afternoon chasing him and barking. Apora and Manja are nice horses; Pilot and Postela are unpredictable. Oh–with afternoon tea, Olga served us this spread on bread of chocolate, sugar, and mashed-up cookies. The product was so much better than its constituents. The toilets are much nicer here than at Hill and Hollow, the water about the same, and the company more joyful. The sunset was brief but beautiful; let’s hope that the red sky at night brings dry, warm weather so tomorrow we can see the stars. 

August 11, 2011

No luck on the star front. I didn’t hear rain on the roof when I woke up, but shortly after morning exercises it picked up and has continued steadily since. Kasha with goat milk and bread with some kind of preserves for breakfast. Then we went up to the loft so Olga could teach us a song. We hung out for a long time, exchanging contact info and children’s rhymes. We taught them “Here is the church” and “It’s raining, it’s pouring.” Olga brought a children’s magazine, so Ruslan and Maksim (students) helped us read some of it–well, Ruslan helped; Maksim mostly just ate all my almonds. Olga and Jacqueline left to go make phone calls, and ARG and I hung out with the boys. Now Maksim and ARG are involved in a checkers/table football hybrid that only Maksim seems to understand. 

Lunch was fish soup, bread, cukes, sausages, and kasha. I slept just before, so now everyone but me is taking a siesta. The rain has stopped for the time being. 

Funny story: all the students (about 50) come to teh farm for the first two weeks of summer vacation. After that they can come whenever they want for as long as they want. The teachers rotate spending a week at a time here. When all the kids were here, Olga told them that there were mermaids in the river, which the kids of course didn’t believe. So she had the older kids hide behind a bank and sing when the little ones were brought down to the river. Freaked them out.

This afternoon Nikolaj came and took our passports after we asked about registration. Either he’s helping us immensely, or we just got screwed. ARG and Nikolaj had a successful German conversation while I fetched the passports. Then we cut grass for the horses again. Buckwheat kasha, hot dogs, onions, and carrots for supper. Not a fan. Then Jacqueline, ARG, and I went to help the boys milk (доить). 2 of Nikolaj’s adopted sons, along with one of the older students, live out at the house-to-be down the path. we milked the cow with no success and 3 goats (got about a pint). Then we returned for tea with rolls and chocolate. ARG and I sang “Which Side Are You On”, and ARG did a lovely solo of “Oj Senjushka.” Bed around midnight. I didn’t sleep well and woke up sideways in the middle of the night at the bottom of my pad. I hope I didn’t bother Jacqueline. 


August 12, 2011

Woke up this morning to find that Apora had gotten out. So far, no one seems terribly concerned, including Apora. She’s been out for several hours now, just munching on weeds. Cream of wheat and bread with butter and peaches for breakfast. Then we went to help the boys milk. When we got there, they said there wasn’t any milk, so we walked around and took pictures instead. Then ARG and I did laundry in the river, and Ruslan helped me write words to the blessing they sing before meals. 

While we were up in the loft just now, Ruslan and Maksim came up, followed by Olga. She gave them each an English book and asked us to read with them. Ruslan reads rather well, but Maksim could use some extra help. They both have endearing accents. Now they’re helping ARG read a Russian picture dictionary, which is interesting, since I don’t think Maksim’s reading difficulties are confined to English. Ruslan wants to play a game, but Maksim wants to sleep. I gave Ruslan one of my headscarves and taught him how to tickle Maksim’s ear. Now they’re wrestling.  


Lunch was delicious macaroni soup, cukes, and rice with pork. After that we slept, and I dreamed a vivid dream that I can’t remember now. Woke up just in time for полник, the meal that comes before you’re hungry. Nikolaj told us yesterday that Tatjana, a mom of one of the kids, is a singer and would love for us to pick her brain. So with ARG’s urging, I asked her about singing. She sat with us for a good half hour sharing songs. translations: “O wide steppe, whose borders are wide in all directions. The eagle rises over the steppe. It is not an eagle, but a Cossack. The eagle never flies close to the ground, and the Cossack never walks close to the water.” “The bride-duck sings to the groom-duck: swim by and pick one of these ducks, and she will be yours for a thousand years.” Then we groomed the horses. Manja was very good, but Apora and Postela were both scared. Postela is new, from about 6 weeks ago. she was in a milk factory, where she was badly cared for. I don’t know Apora’s story. Leftover rice and delicious salad of cukes, peppers, and corn for supper. Slava laughs when I can’t understand people; it’s frustrating. We went to milk ,and NIkolaj was there. He fussed at us for being late. Then all hell broke loose as Buran attacked a goad, goats attacked us, and the cow ran away. Eventually all were settled, and I milked a goat with greater success than yesterday. Tatjana, Jacqueline, and Nikolaj took off for Kaluga, and ARG and I went home. There Ruslan invited us to go shut up the hoophouses, andh e taught me to say the phases of the moon. Sidenote: just now the kids were talking too quickly for us to understand, except for the word “Dumbledore. We burst out laughing, and they thought we were crazy. Then the kids told jokes til almost midnight. Maksim is hilarious; ARG recorded him. Then Slava pulled out his phone and played a few American songs: “My Heart Will Go On”, “We Will Rock You,” and a song about gold that ARG+I deduced is probably from Scrooge: The Musical.

“This place really is wonderland. It’s like Lord of the Flies gone right.”