Hello! I had a lovely post detailing a hilarious snafu at the hotel, but my computer deleted it, and I’m too lazy to rewrite the thing. 

As you may know, May 9 was V-Day, which is about 10000% more important in Russia than in the US. I didn’t want to miss it, but I didn’t want to miss Malta, either, and I figured skipping a whole week’s vacation for a few hours tops of parade would be silly. For about a week before the celebration, people would sport their medals or the medals of their fallen parents and grandparents. Nobody does military homage quite like the Russians. 

 

The Day of Spring Labor (like a national spring cleaning) falls right before V-Day (probably not coincidentally, although a quick Google search didn’t shed any light on the subject), and consists, in the poetic words of fellow Fulbrighter Arielle, of “involves burning everything and then painting everything else white.” Everything, that is, except the tanks. That’s not to say that the tanks are neglected–by no means. They get a fresh coat of green paint, all the details get filled in in red and white, red flags are put up around them and red roses all over them (even stuck between the treads of the caterpillar tracks and down what I’m going to call the mouth), and soldiers in dress uniforms stand on either side of it. Nathan informs me that these people are called an honor guard, and that although there are two soldiers, they are considered one honor guard. Things I learn.

 

Nathan furthermore informs me that V-Day in Cherepovets was not as big a deal as in many other places, or at least not in our part of the city. For Katja, V-Day is always a big party with her friends. They watch the parade in Velikij Ustjug and then have shashlyk together. This year, Katja–and only Katja–can’t make it, because she’s working furiously on her senior thesis. She was pretty depressed about breaking the tradition, so Nathan took her out for a picnic and the parade. Apparently the parade lasted 10 minutes, which makes it less like a parade and more like people going for a walk. 

 

I highly recommend that you read Fulbrighter Ella’s account of the festivities in Kaliningrad. As I recall, she studied history in college, and so she can provide effortlessly the historical context that I can only provide through furious Googling, and it shows in her blog

 

Anyway, that’s V-Day. 

 

What’s been happening here in windy, sunny Malta, you probably didn’t ask? Not much. The waves have been really rough, which made the ferry ride to the island of Gozo yesterday interesting in a brace-your-chair-against-the-floor kind of way. Gozo was beautiful, and I would gladly have spent the whole trip there. We saw the Blue Window, where I glommed on to a German tour group for some reconfirmation of my skillz. Everyone needs a boost occasionally. 

Anna and I both got ill the night before, and so we slept across rows of seats at the back of the tour bus most of the day, only venturing out for tea and the sightseeing high points. 

 

Today I rode a pony (actually a Barb horse from Tunisia) across the Malese countryside at Birindija (or something like that) Riding. They picked me up from the tour agency where I booked in a big van that had had all but one row of seats removed and whose shock absorbers probably went out around the time I was born. We drove about 30 minutes over lumpy-bumpy roads, swerving precariously around stone-lined curves and fellow motorists. When we passed the biggest tomato field I’ve ever seen in my life, the sweet, sweet smell of manure made its way into the van, and I knew we were close. My horse, as I said, was a Barb (short for Barbarian, which is politicially-incorrect-ese for Moroccan), a hotblooded (?) breed whose gaits, according to Wikipedia, are “not particularly good.” I emphatically second this observation. I’ve seen the face people make when trotting for the first time, and today was the first day in a long time that I felt myself make the same face and scrunch my entire upper body down in a way that clearly says, “I am absolutely sure that I am going to die upon this horrid beast, but in the meantime, I will protect my vital organs to my fullest ability.” 

That, coupled with a saddle that felt more like a wooden board strapped to the BJ’s back and my butt, meant that the ride was beautiful and pleasant, but not very comfortable for me or my ever-patient steed. I felt constantly forced into very exaggerated positions, as my normal riding position was nearly impossible in such a saddle. Either I was in a very deep dressage seat (roll back onto your squishy bits so the gait of the horse feels like it’s pulling you more forward than sideways) or perched in nearly a jumping position (rolled forward onto your pelvis so you feel a lot more lateral movement, and you have to grip with your whole legs). If I had been training, the latter would have been great exercise for my legs, but as I was committed for two hours of stumbling over craggy rocks and also have no hope of riding consistently for some time yet, I wasn’t excited about wearing myself out so quickly and thoroughly. BJ, though clearly not a fan of the dressage seat, tolerated it graciously with only his flattened ears betraying his annoyance. 

 

Bear in mind that I am by no means complaining–the ride was wonderful. I took a few pictures, but not many because it seemed both risky and mostly pointless (as very few of them would wind up coming out). I’m not Erin, after all. She is far more inclined than I towards both risky things on horses and photography. I’m a wuss who prefers to hold my memories with my memory. 

I was told that groups were usually no larger than 6 or 7 people. In fact, I was not only the only person in my “group”, but the only customer of the day. So my guide, Katrin (I swear, they’re everywhere), and I had lots of time to chat about the horsey lifestyle and how naughty Russian tourists are. Apparently they hate Russians. I would love to elaborate, but I’ve written enough, and besides, I’m about to miss our bus back to the airport. See you again back home in dear Russia!

Apropos of nothing, Natasha bought a notebook today that says “Keep Calm–It’s Terribly British.” Quite.

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