Friday, April 17, 2009

Sorry for the communication breakdown

Dear everyone,

Sorry I've been so long in writing. I guess I have less new impressions and have gotten used to life here so much that I haven't really thought to write anything down. That's not to say that nothing interesting's been going on. Let's see....

I was accepted into some grad schools and actually got to go to America to visit them. This was quite a shock, having been in Russia for so long, especially as my first real stop was California (practically a foreign country in itself and quite a contrast from Tomsk). I had a great visit and ended up deciding to go to Stanford for Slavic Studies, although I liked UChicago and Northwestern as well. All in all, the trip was wonderful. I got to see my family and plenty of friends (in San Francisco, Columbus/Gambier, and Chicago), and I also got the chance to try some classic pieces of American cuisine (including Mexican, Italian, Indian, etc, etc, but you catch my drift). I also brought a whole suitcase full of American contraband back for myself and friends, including 3 bottles of Habanero Tobasco.

So yeah, I'm liking the prospect of spending the next 5-6 years of my life in the Bay Area working on Russian literature, although it looks like a lot of work. I was a little disappointed that these programs seem to put so little emphasis on spending time in Russia and providing opportunities to maintain your Russaian. I think they are flexible though, so if this is a priority for me, I think they can help make all that happen. I'd like to spend some summers and at least another year living in Russia before I get my PhD and start pretending I'm qualified to teach people Russian. I'd really like to spend a year in St. Petersburg!

I was happy to get back to my lovely Tomsk, though. Spring had sprung just before I left. It's amazing how great 0 degrees Celcius feels after a winter with temperatures in the -30's and -40's. Basically the sun, along with an army of probably homeless people melted and chipped away the feet of ice and snow that had accumulated over the course of the winter, and people came out in masses. Some places were and are still pretty muddy, but the center, where I live, was cleaned up pretty nicely, so Russians, dressed to the nines, came out to stroll and strut in the the above 0 temperatures (women, of course, in high heels and mini-skirts). The main drag, Prospekt Lenina, felt like Nevskii Prospekt in the summertime.

What have I been doing in my free time? In late February/early March I fell in love with EL Doctorow and read three of his novels, Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, and Billy Bathgate, which are wonderful beyond description. I'm so proud of our Kenyon alumnus. I can't believe we don't make a bigger deal of him. I think we need a statue. My concience has since directed me back to Russian literature, and I've been working away at some Bulgakov novellas and plays, which are pretty enjoyable. At Stanford I got the reading list for the comps exam to be taken after the first two years of study: 14 pages of works typed in size 10 font. Thing's pretty comprehensive. It sounds like a lot of work, especially in Russian, but I like the idea of having read all of those books. Also, I've been working on a top secret project that some of you may end up seeing in the next month or two. Hope you like it!

What else, oh yes, I got a bike through the used stuff paper "Iz ruk v ruki" (from hands to hands). A lot of the bikes seemed way too small, but one was advertized as "for a tall height". Some short lady but an enormous men's bike that she never even managed to sit on. She sold it to me for a song (5,500 rubles), at least as far as bikes in Russian go. They are unimaginably expensive at bike stores. Anyway, much to the shock of the local population, I've been cruising around the city, exploring new neighborhoods, getting some exercise, and, in general, just looking really cool. What shocks Russians most is the idea of using a bike to commute to work or school. From what I gather, they don't really use bike locks. The few that have bikes (bmx bikes have become a huge fad for Russian teenagers in the past few years) just take them out and bring them back home. They think I'm crazy for locking my bike to things. They're sure that cops or the unstoppable Russian criminal mind will surely jack my bike in the next few weeks. We'll see. The only down side is that I have to carry it up to my third storey apartment every day and park it in the living room. You know what, I don't even care. This bike has brought me unimaginable happiness in the past few days. I'll bring you all a picture soon if I get a chance. What a beaut.

So that's about it I suppose. I'm getting by at the university, chatting up my students about my trip to America (convenient for me). Everyone wants to know how the poor Americans are surviving the crisis. I think TV here has them thinking that most Americans now live in the streets and beg for BigMacs. Okay, I don't want to go into the crisis and Russians, so I'm going to stop myself. Hopefully I'll get back to you sooner than later.

Nice seeing you all in America,

P.S. Check out Alex Murphy's blog about Japan. It's way cooler than mine.