Monday, May 25, 2009

Jason's Dream: The Musical

So, dear readers,

I had such a funny dream last night, that I thought I'd tell you about it. It's already been a few hours, so a lot of details and developments have faded, but I still remember a few.

So at one point, I was meeting with some of my future graduate school professors, only I was going to Chicago and not Stanford. They decided to start showing me their old report cards from the university (which looked a lot like the Russian grade books). They had grades like, "m", "n", o", "j", "a", and "b". "A" and "b" were the best,"j" was the worst, and the rest didn't really correspond in any way to quality, but signified something completely different. Anyway, for a bunch of PhD's there were a heck a lot of "j's", especially one guy (who was actually Mr. Klein from Kenyon's English Department).

Eventually, I walked out of the mahogany-paneled room, where this nonsense was taking place, and found myself in this big, open, outdoor amphitheater place. Apparently I came late to rehearsal for some band I was involved with. The band was really a huge, Broadway-scale cast of dancers, back-up singers, a brass section (which was actually comprised of members of the Motown Band from Kenyon), some directors with megaphones, and me, in some capacity. Apparently, I was a singer, but while the directors were sorting out some technical problem, I, for a lark, started to sing this song from the soundtrack of the Bollywood movie "Bombay Talkie" which is featured on the soundtrack of Wes Anderson's Darjeeling Limited. For those of you who know what I'm talking about, it's called "Typewriter, tip, tip, tip, tip". It's this really silly Indian song I've been listening to constantly as I experiment with Indian cuisine.

So, I start singing this song, and to my surprise, the Motown Band knows the song, and they immediately start playing it. The dancers also seem to know it and start performing some funny dances to the music. I'm amazed and work myself into a frenzy singing "TYPEWRITER TEEP TEEP TEEP... blah dee dah" (I think the rest of the lyrics are in Hindi, and I just imitate teh sounds). If you want to know what I'm talking about check here or here . I'm not sure if those links work, because I can't use youtube here, but you should try them. So, this was all really fun, more fun than I can express in words, and lasted about 2 or 3 minutes until I tried to video tape the whole thing and we fell apart. Quite a laugh.

After rehearsal, Steve Klise, my girlfriend, and I decided to go for a bike ride. At this point I realized we WERE in fact in Palo Alto, California, and we decided to bike to San Francisco. We went for a nice ride along some mysterious body of water, and about 2 minutes later ended up downtown at some bustling market place. I was amazed at how convenient it was to commute and decided I'd get an apartment in the city, rather than on campus. We were about to look for some water to quench our thirst after our monumental, two-minute, 45-mile trip, when we saw a guy ride by on a funny-looking bike, decked out in all kinds of speakers and electronic equipment. The guy was smiling wryly and somehow playing some really beautiful music as he rode. The song was familiar, but at first I couldn't put my finger on it. Then I realized, it was the guy from Beirut!

We, of course, all instantly remembered that the guy from Beirut was famous for riding around San Francisco on his bicycle playing guerilla concerts in abandoned parking garages. We followed and he winked the sort of wink you wink when you're a celebrity and someone recognizes you but you're not Hollywood enough to resent it (nor do you let it get to your head). Do you know that kind of wink? So, we followed him, and before we knew it, he and his group had set up and began to play. A personal concert for us! In a minute or two, all of my friends from Kenyon materialized and went googoo for Beirut. There was dancing and sing-alongs, and in general, a lot of merry-making. One thing I remember in particular was Liesel spray-painting a lot of amputated, styrofoam animal limbs. I wondered were she got them but then realized she and some other friends had ripped them off my styrofoam pig that I had apparently tied to the back of my bicycle. I was angry for a second, but I couldn't stay mad with all the great music and wonderful friends at my side. I swear they played about five songs before I woke up, all of which seemed to me to be Beirut, although I don't even know their music that well. There's one in particular that's been stuck in my head all day. I'll be listening to it when I get home today!

Well, that's about all I remember right now, but there was much more to the dream. Thanks to all my friends for appearing in my dream. Really, even if I didn't mention you, you were there. Everyone was there. By the way, I think this gorilla concert business stems from the article I read about Joanna Newsom playing a surprise concert in Big Sur a month and a half ago. Liesel was the one who told me about it, so that's probably why she had one of the lead roles in the concert sequence. If you're reading this Liesel, I'm not mad about the pig! Steve, thanks for showing us the way to the city!

I wanted to tell you about a real, waking-life bike ride I took a couple weeks ago, but I'm pretty tired of writing. Maybe next time.....

Okay, I'll give you a brief synopsis, you insistent readers, you.

So, we took a commuter train out to the village bright and early one morning (after the Victory Day holidays). It was pretty impressive. I definitely got the impression that, at least on the exterior, that village hasn't changed in the slightest since the 1920's. There are cows wandering around in the streets (you have to get there early in the day if you want milk), little wooden houses, two grocery stores, and a bunch of 20-something young men cruising around the village all day on motor-bikes with side-buggies. So we spent the day in the village, reading and picnicking (although the village kolbasa turned out to be green), until we got too scared of ticks with encephalitis and decided to go home.

We, in true form, missed the elektrichka and were told that the next one would come in 5 hours at 9:20 PM. We decided we had to get out and asked this old man how far it was to Tomsk. He said it was at least 50 km and forbid us to go. We asked how far away the next train station was, and he said it was the airport, and that we would have to take this gravel road 12 km to get there. He also forbid us to go there, and told us we could hide in one of the stores if it started to rain. We thanked him and set off. The gravel road really was awful, but we gradually pieced together the street-marker system, and realized the signs were counting down to something, something big, we hypothesized. It took forever, but we finally got to "O", which turned out to be not the airport, but another, slightly larger village called "Mizhininovka" or something. It's famous for it's huge chicken slaughter house, and I believe there was also a Soviet labor camp there back in the day. We tried to find the factory to see about getting some fresh chicken, failed, got a Snickers and the only bottle of water in the village, and decided to look for what we suspected would be a bigger road.

It was there! A huge, beautiful highway that was so gentle and encouraging after the gravel path. By the way, there were next to no cars out here. As we went on, there were more and more. But even then, we would sometimes go 5 minutes without seeing on, this on a major highway. It was the most beautiful bike-ride ever. The road cut right through middle-of-nowhere, dense, Russian, birch-forest. The whole time we were riding the sun was setting. We noticed the signs were counting down again, this time from 25, and we figured the next one must be the airport. The road was nice, the weather perfect, and we still had plenty of time to catch our train, so we decided to find out what was at the next "O-point". We saw a lot of these funny villages, my favorite of which was called "Mirnyi" or "Peaceful". The funniest name was "Protopopova".

At one point, after something like 12 km, I noticed a sign for a village called "Voskhod" or "Sunset". I knew the place, because my roommate and I had almost been suckered into taking a bus out there to buy him a bike. What was strange was that this village was supposed to be 13 km away from Tomsk, but we were supposed to be much further away and heading for the airport. It turned out that when we were 2 km away from this mysterious "O", my girlfriend recognized "Akademgorodok" in the skyline. Yep, we had accidentally arrived in Tomsk. It was such a wonderful surprise. We were thinking we were still two or three hours and one train-ride away, but really, we just ended up in our lovely "lyubimyi" city.

The long and short of this story is that Siberia is a beautiful place to ride your bike in the spring, especially if you get away from the city. Try it!


PS Maybe I'll add some pictures later!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Hello All!

We're back from our four-day visit to blossoming Novosibirsk, or Nikolaevsk as they once called it. This is my second trip to Novo, or N-sk, or Novosib, however you prefer to call it, but last time I only spent a day there on the way to Ekaterinburg (Yoburg, if you will). So this time I got to see a lot more, plus the weather was about 30-40 degrees C warmer, so we were a bit more mobile.

Let's see, we had a holiday (Day of Labor), plus I don't work on even Mondays (yes, there are even and odd (or uneven, as some say in English) weeks in Russia, so we got to have an extended and free stay chez Matt "returning ETA" Nelson at the Sea-Bags Fortress. It was free thanks to my supposed extended lecture series at the university (thanks to Matt and Julia for hooking up that tall tale (actually I did do one lesson on geography, but all of Matt's students had already seen it)). Anyway, Matt got us lined up with a free dorm room, complete with a tower, two sheets, a blanket, a wash cloth, a TV, a tea kettle, a lamp, a brush for your clothes, a brush for your shoes, and a number of other items necessary for life in Siberia (for the rest of the items, consult the checklist on the door).

So, we got into town and rushed to the grocery store for all the necessary fixins for burritos with guacamole, including some delicious swine (we ain't afraid of no swine flu... Russia's banned all entrance for Mexicans and takes the temperatures of all Americans crossing the border). We met up with some friends, including Katya the local and Nick the Manchester (who had his first burrito!). We got pretty sleepy, having caught the 8:30 bus in, and dozed off for a good 12 hours.

The next day we visited the most sacred spot in Novo, MEGA, home to the only Ikea in a few oblasts. I had never been, so it was pretty new and astonishing for me, but Matt had already decked out his room in Ikea gear and was less impressed. All the same, he was a good sport, and agreed to take us on the pilgrimage. We took the metro (oh yeah, there's a metro, now covered with stickers from the city's new literacy campaign, explaining rare and little known facts about Russian spelling, stress, and grammar) to the Marx Square stop, and after missing 2 buses, hopped on the free super shuttle, which takes visitors out of the city to shopping central. It was every bit as sweaty and miserable as Matt warned it would be.

Anyway, Ikea was pretty fun. We had an endless series of photoshoots in which we pretended like we lived in each of the little fake rooms, and then I bought some bowls, glasses, candles, and things, followed by some hot dogs and sodas (Swedish meatballs for the traitors who skipped out on my lecture to stay in MEGA, when Matt and I had to bolt back to the university).

Let's see, what else, I learned about to play some banjo, including the boom-ditty strumming rythm. We went to a great (and rare!) microbrewery, and happened to catch the US-Russia championship hockey match. Matt applauded loudly after America scored the first goal and almost got our teeth knocked in by our neighbors in the next booth. Luckily, Russia scored the next 5 goals and our neighbors cheered up, although Matt did lose 100 rubles in a bet. The beer was delicious, and we went home to go to sleep.

The next day, we woke up early to buy some lotion and Snickers bars, and the weather was amazing. 20 degrees C and windy as the Dickens. I was afraid this sheet metal on this walkway was going to fly up and decapitate us, but heads intact, we marched on to Pyatorochka for Snickers and Ice-Tea. While we were enjoying our snacks on these freaky benches made in the USSR for the giants of the Soviet future, the weather went haywire. Storm clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped. A freak wind and lightening storm stranded us in the entrance of a hospital (the door was marked as being for patients who had been bitten by ticks and hoping to get immunized). When the storm passed, we headed home, and after some of Matt's delicious coffee, we headed off for the train station (we were headed to Obskoe Lake and Akademgorodok). We missed the train and went for some sushi (there were some rolls covered in black caviar called "OBAMA"... hmmm). We tried to change our order to all-you-can eat, but we spoke to late, and had to settle for more reasonable portions. Then we ran back to the train station and missed the train again.

While we were waiting, we went to the stall of a vendor of childrens toys and bought a. a fake ID featuring Luntik the cartoon moon-animal, b. some bubbles, and c. one of those New Years noise-making blowy toys. We didn't see the connection at first, but we soon realized that we had the means for an amazing game: battle bubble. While one person blew bubbles, the other popped them as quickly as possible with his festive, extendible noise-maker. Some of the station employees were not amused, but the todlers liked to stand and watch. We eventually caught our elektrichka out and enjoyed the accordion stylings of a blind man while laughing at the pictures of ourselves playing bubble battle.

The lake was beautiful, but the weather was freezing (the temperature was dropping all day, my friends can assure you) and there were mountains of trash everywhere. We took some pictures, reenacted the final scene from "Les quatre-cent coups" a few times, thought about crashing a bonfire, but ultimately tracked off through the woods to find the mysterious institution of higher learning known as AKADEMGORODOK. I didn't think we'd make it, but we did. We had a rendezvous with Irochka, who refused to show us to the critically acclaimed Mexican place, but agreed to take us for "NEW YORK PIZZA", which it certainly was not. It was fun though, and we played some bubble battle and then turned down a tour of NGU. The place was really nice though. It was the closest thing to an American-style university I've seen in Russia: a cloistered, well-forested, quiet, comfortable community centered around the university. I was intrigued, but not intrigued enough to hang around in the cold in the middle of nowhere, and so we hopped on a "gazelle" bus and headed back to the city. On the bus, we entertained ourselves )and some alcoholics and old Russian ladies) with bubble battle until Irochka said "I am tired... of bubbles", and we cut it out. Then, let's see, we got some Ramen noodles and Zhigulyovskoe and called it an evening.

So, the next day was spend showing my passport and explaining my address to about a million people at the university who were on to the scheme (luckily Matt was smooth enough to get me off campus without my being detained). We went for a stroll, picked up some cough drops, thought about trying Yugoslavian food, and then headed off to buy our tickets home. While we were waiting for our bus, we decided to go get some Rostiks (which Russian for KFC), and Matt treated us all to cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, and cokes. What is more, the lady didn't even blink an eye when Matt dropped a 5,000 r note (this would be like going into McDonalds and paying with a $200 bill). She was totally down though, and we feasted. In the end, we stayed too long and ended up sprinting to the bus station. We really almost missed it. Matt waived us off, and I think I saw a tear in his eye.

It was a quiet ride home, and the bus driver drove smoothly and quickly. We made record time. We stopped in Bolotnoe (a city that is literally a building of pay toilets, a motel, a snack bar, and something called a nigh cafe... oh, and the city's name means swampy). When we got home we jocked our Ikea bags upstairs to show them off to Michael the roommate, who was not impressed and didn't think too highly of our shopping at Ikea. You can't please 'em all!

Today I am in bad shape. I am tired, my nose is running like a faucet, I have nothing to blow it into, and I have to lead a seminar on how to motivate students to learn a foreign language. I could use a seminar on how to motivate myself to lead seminars!

Love y'all,