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Wow, I guess I had a big break from blogging there. Part of the reason is that I was busy with end-of-term stuff, part of it was that I kept getting sick, part of it was that I was in Russia without regular internet access for two weeks, and part of it was that I just wasn’t in the mood. But here we are.

We took the ferry and the train to and from St. Petersburg. It took a long time, but it was nice, especially on the way back when all the cheap cabins on the ferry were sold out and we sprang for a nice one. It was an interesting study in demographics. On the way there, December 23rd, there were very few Scandinavian-looking people on the boat. All the Swedes and Finns were home with their families. It was the immigrant boat. Girls in head scarves speaking Finnish. On the way back, January 5, it was the Russian tourist boat.

Russia was interesting as usual. I realized that if we’re going to stay in Sweden and I’m only going to go to Russia once a year, it ought to be in late spring or summer, NOT December/January. Yes, I did once vow to spend all New Years in Russia, but really, it’s more about having people around than where you are. So the plan is to have everyone come here next New Year.

The effects of the financial crisis were more apparent in St. Petersburg than here in the bubble of small-town Sweden. Our friends had stories of their workplaces downsizing, several had been given an extra “vacation” (without pay) or received a pay cut. There seemed to be fewer cars on the road, which is only good for traffic and the environment, but a sign of tough times nonetheless. In general, things felt more subdued than when we left eleven months ago. As a visitor, it was kind of nice. But we realized that if we had stayed in St. Petersburg instead of coming to Sweden, we’d be unemployed now too – companies are trying to save money by cutting back on “extras” like English lessons for their employees.

The week after New Year is one long national holiday in Russia. The thing to do is stay up late, sleep til afternoon, eat leftovers, go out somewhere shopping or to the movies or to a cafe, get drunk, and do it all over again. We saw two Russian movies in the theater and two on DVD while we were there. Here are my reviews.

Obitaemiy Ostrov (Inhabited Island) – Sci-fi dystopia based on a classic novel. It was supposed to be the New Year’s Blockbuster. It didn’t impress me much. I thought the special effects were crappy and hackneyed, but it did make me want to read the book, so that’s something.

Stilyagi – This film RULED! I hope they release it internationally. It’s a musical, and I hate musicals, but I liked this film. It’s about youths in 1950s Moscow who embraced jazz and dancing and brightly-colored clothes, enduring harassment from their peers in the Komsomol. So it’s kind of political, but the main reason I liked it is that it was just really well done visually.

The following are the films I saw on DVD. They’re a couple years old, but you probably haven’t seen them, so I’ll review them. :-)

Bumazhniy Soldat (Paper Soldier) – artsy fartsy film about how members of the intelligentsia participated in the development of the Soviet space program by standing around in puddles smoking cigarettes.

Vdokh Vydokh (Inhale Exhale) – artsy fartsy film in which a guy hires his ex-wife as a prostitute. They had gotten divorced because the ex-wife had had a lesbian love affair which consisted of a lot of skipping around in the forest, pillow fights and giggling. A pile of utter nonsense, but visually appealing.

So that was my trip to Russia. I got valenki (felt boots) from Kostia’s mom for New Year, will try to get around to taking a picture of myself in them. In the meantime, here are some other photos:

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Kostia’s hometown. They stopped building the building on the left when the Soviet Union collapsed. On the right you can see part of the sign for “Trendy Cafe”.

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Obligatory picture of the Church on Spilled Blood

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“Now it’s a holiday, the rest of the year – gray everyday life?”

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View of Nevsky Prospect and Griboyedov Canal from Dom Knigi

Went to Stockholm for the day last Monday to drop off my Russian visa application. Kostia and I are going for Christmas and New Year. It only took about 30 minutes at the embassy in what had to be the most friendly and efficient office of the Russian Federation I have ever been in (must be the Swedish influence) and I had a day to enjoy Stockholm. Decided to get a haircut as they seem to be on average 200 crowns (25 bucks) cheaper than in Falun. Thus far I’ve managed not to get a haircut in a salon in Sweden (perhaps because it’s so expensive?), so I was stressing out a bit about my Swedish salon vocabulary or lack thereof. I needn’t have worried. I walked into a random salon, where the stylist said it would take 20 minutes to finish with her current customer, sat down, and heard that the stylist, the customer, and the other woman hanging around were speaking Russian. Saved! By now my Russian salon vocabulary is totally functional.

Despite it being the darkest, grimmest time of year and it being an especially gray and drizzly day, Stockholm looked fantastic, especially after dark with all the holiday decorations. I amused myself by visiting secondhand shops and had the opportunity to meet with the owners of a language school I’m doing some teaching through these days, who were lovely people. The day culminated with a visit to the Christmas market in Old Town. I didn’t bring my camera, thinking, what else can I possibly photograph in Stockholm after having been there countless times?

I have to go back to Stockholm on Tuesday to pick up my visa, and am really looking forward to it. This time I will bring my camera.

I wasn’t really sure whether kids trick-or-treated here, and wound up not buying any candy, and when nobody came by on Friday evening, I figured we were off the hook. So when some kids knocked on our door yesterday, I was sent rushing around the house for something to give them. You know what those poor kids got? Grapefruits. We had apples, but in the moment I had to think about it, I thought of the whole razor-blades-in-the-apples urban legend and thought, well, at least you can sorta tell whether a grapefruit has been tampered with, and even if kids don’t like grapefruits, their parents can eat them. Later I went out and Kostia said we had a few more trick-or-treaters, who got the off-brand chocolate bars that I had forgotten we had in the cupboard. God, I never thought I’d be one of those disappointing households on Halloween! But at least I’m not as intentionally evil as this lady:

Things have been busy. Kostia and I went to Rome for a mini-vacation last week. Eventually I’ll get around to posting some pictures. It was a fun trip but even though we planned it during the only four-day window that both of us could manage to get away before the holidays, it was still a mistake for both of us to take off in the middle of the term. Just too much to do.

When I’m procrastinating, I’m obsessing over the election. Next Tuesday will be like Christmas. Hopefully there won’t be any coal in my stocking, i.e., McCain winning. Speaking of Christmas stockings, I’ll also have to post a picture of this amazing thing I found in the 1 Euro Shop in Rome.

Oh, and it’s snowing here. A lot. Instant winter, though I’m sure it will melt (and snow and melt again) before winter sets in for good. This morning Kostia said, “Ooh! We haven’t seen snow in so long!” And I said, “The last snow was in MAY. Five and a half months ago. That is NOT a long snowless season.” But I’m getting better at accepting that winter lasts six months or more here. When we went to Rome, I just couldn’t conceive that it would actually be warm somewhere in late October, and didn’t bring any shoes other than the knee-high boots I was wearing (with accompanying knee socks). It kind of sucked to be uncomfortably warm when all I wanted to do was enjoy the nice weather.

Yesterday was my first 4th of July in the US in four years. We started the day with blueberry pancakes at a nice little café with a slightly overbearing proprietor who, upon hearing that I had worked as an English teacher in Russia and Sweden, tried to persuade me that it would benefit the world much more if I worked at a for-profit American school in Gaza that he helped found. While I have sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, I also have sympathy for the plight of the Israelis (not to mention the fact that Kostia’s brother lives in Israel), so I can’t say that Palestine is going to be my next big cause. I also can’t see how working in a for-profit school would contribute to the greater good. Oh well. It’s a nice café anyway.

We went to the Independence Day parade in Canandaigua, my dad’s hometown and the place where I’m spending most of this month. Here are some pictures. 

In the spirit of American democracy and bad fashion, I wore my new ill-fitting Obama t-shirt to the parade, hoping to irritate some Republicans. I think I achieved my goal.

Marching band. This was about the only one, surprisingly, though there were bagpipers…

There was all kinds of culture, including the South Bristol Cultural Center, which, according to their banner, celebrates culture. That sounds pretty vague to me…

Good old Uncle Sam on a Vespa

Patriotic fashion…

… which is not as cute on older people:

There were classic cars to make a Dalarna County redneck drool

And classic fire engines too.

 
After the parade we wound up on an impromptu wine tour, if two wineries can be called a tour. Those of you not from Upstate New York might be surprised to know that western New York state is a wine-producing region. Too bad for my grandpa, who has lived here for all of his 89 years, yet is a teetotaller. I wonder how many wine tours he’s been dragged on in his life.

It was decided we needed to pose in front of this barrel

 

View of Canandaigua Lake

And a vineyard

And a winery that I really liked – both the atmosphere and the wine

In the evening we went to the fireworks on Canandaigua Lake. It was a great fireworks show, but I’m not sure that arriving an hour and a half early to find parking and then taking an hour and a half to get out of the post-fireworks traffic jam was worth the 20 minutes of visual entertainment. Oh, the things we do in the name of tradition.

They had a carnival in our ghetto and the parade went past our door.

I baked some gourmet pizzas. The one has caramelized onion, spinach, and mushrooms, the other has this beet pasta sauce. I love the stuff but am bored of pasta, so that’s why I started investigating pizza dough.

We went to Uppsala for midsommar, the Scandinavian solstice festival. There was folk music and dancing around maypoles at Old Uppsala

I liked this fountain in Uppsala proper

The Linneaus botanical garden

On the night of the solstice I made Kostia and Dima go for a walk at 1:00 a.m. If you know me, you know that it took a supreme effort to stay awake and leave the house at that hour, but it was worth it. Here you can see the transition from dusk to dawn at 1:30 a.m.

That’s Dima

Finally, today was an historic day because Kostia cooked something from a recipe. We have several cookbooks in German that we inherited from Claudia when she moved away. Kostia wanted to keep the cookbooks, but since I don’t know German I told him he had to use them or else we had to give them away. So, he finally got around to it and made a very tasty zucchini frittata.

Happy Victory Day. This is the day when, no matter what the weather, they literally disperse the clouds (in St. Petersburg and Moscow at least, and yes, they really have the technology to do that) and celebrate the defeat of the Nazis. It’s not a holiday in Sweden, which is too bad – I wouldn’t mind a parade, minus the weaponry of course (see post below).

I’d been thinking about Marshmallow Peeps all week, and then I ran across Peeps for Passover today, and then I discovered Washington Post’s Peeps Diorama Contest. And basically, well, I’m really craving some Peeps now. I haven’t seen them here in Sweden. If someone in the U.S. wanted to buy a whole lot of Peeps and Cadbury Creme Eggs at an after-Easter clearance sale and send them to me, I could return the favor with some exotic Swedish candy. Salty licorice anyone? (Just kidding, that stuff is hard for the uninitiated to stomach. I’ll send something else.)

It’s been a pretty mild winter, and I’ve already thought it was over a few times, but we got a cold snap for Easter and the first official days of spring. It was cold enough to re-freeze some of the lakes that had already thawed.

We went for a walk this afternoon and saw all these footprints in the snow on Lake Varpan leading to a very appealing little island.

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We decided it was our big chance to walk across the lake and explore the island, so we ignored our initial fears and stepped onto the ice.

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We reached the island without incident. We saw an ice fishing hole and even some bicycle tracks in the snow. The island was very nice, except for the unexpected campsite that was littered with trash.

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Kostia ventured to Land’s End.

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Easter self-portrait.

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About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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