Monthly Archives: February 2011

Zippers Continued

When the serious-looking lady at the shoe repair store asked me if it would be alright to pick up my boot tomorrow, I agreed as long as it would be ready in the morning.  “Is 11:00 alright?” she asked. I agreed and trudged back home, if you remember.

So imagine this morning: I wake up at 9:45 with a class to teach at 1:25. This should be a nice relaxed morning. But somehow it’s too relaxed, and by the time I’m ready to go anywhere it’s 12:00. Great, I think, that’s just enough time for me to hop over to the shoe repair store, pick up my hopefully fixed boot, come back home, change my shoes, and go off to work. When I actually get to the store, it’s 12:25 and the window that has my boot is on break from 12:00-1:00.

Damn you, технологический перерыв! I’ll briefly explain: for most businesses it is common for specific windows (imagine at a bank) to have scheduled breaks during the working day. This is called, literally, “technological break” and is not connected to technology in any way or form (sometimes it’s called a technical break, but it’s the same thing). It’s just to give the workers a break I guess…but I don’t know.  I’m wary of the whole concept. My previous experiences with the перерыв have been alternatively frustrating or entertaining: for example, standing in a line to buy train tickets and realizing that there are only 15 more minutes before the break starts and this window closes – will I make it or not? Same goes for the bank. Today, however, I was not amused.

I thought for a few minutes about my plan of attack. I quickly ruled out the option of going to work in my unlined autumn heels. After a ten-minute walk to the shoe store my feet were already frozen. I decided to go back home, get the things I needed for work and my other boot, and return to the store exactly at 1:00 to retrieve the broken boot, changing shoes at the shoe repair store and heading off to work.  This is the kind of stuff that happens to me all the time: I mess up or don’t pay attention somehow, and then I end up having to make extra trips or waste little bits of time to make sure that everything works out.

So, after carefully trudging back home (no slips or falls! hooray!) and briefly warming up my feet and grabbing my teaching materials, I trudged back to the store and happily collected my boot, complete with a shiny new zipper.  Although it was a little awkward to manage changing my shoes in the store – imagine me sitting in my sleeping-bag-coat managing zippers with frozen hands and not having any place for my massive purse – I was so happy when I stepped back outside in my true winter boots. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, as Joni told us, and I definitely did not appreciate what a wonder my black boots are until they were ripped, however briefly, from my frozen little hands. They have traction! They have toasty lining! They prevent me from falling on my face all the time! They make winter livable.  Here’s to you, boots. I am very happy to have you back.


PS: As one of my readers so aptly pointed out, I forgot to mention yesterday that the word for zipper in Russian “молния” literally means lightning.  Gives a whole new meaning to “examine your zipper,” huh? Hehe.



The past few days have not been extremely exciting because I am a little sick.  Nothing terrible, just a bit of a fever and what can most accurately be described as a brain cloud.  Somewhat luckily for me, then, the classes I was supposed to teach today were canceled because parts of the university are on quarantine because of an apparent flu epidemic that has taken the city.  Although my personal experience with this flu has been limited to the appearance of surgical masks on all cashiers in all stores, I was relieved to not have to teach today when I wasn’t feeling 100% the best.

At some point this afternoon, when I realized that my headache was in fact going nowhere, I decided that it would be necessary to leave the relative comfort of my apartment and buy some food because food does not appear in my fridge on its own.  Since it is pretty cold I made a critical error of putting on not one but two pairs of socks. This would not be so bad except that when I was putting on my boots one of the zippers broke because it could not handle the false cankles it was faced with.  “Oh, shoot!” I exclaimed. “Fish-heads!” (Not really.  Sorry Dad. My choice of words was much stronger and did not stop after two short phrases.)

This was not what I wanted to deal with. Oh well. I sucked it up and decided that this would be an ideal time to get the zipper on one of my jackets fixed also. I sadly put on my unlined autumn boots, which are unfortunately heels, and slowly made my way to the repair shops, almost slipping and falling at least 5 times. I was feeling pretty defeated about the whole thing, especially about how cold my feet were getting and how I had to trudge through a snowbank around a huge truck to get the shop entrance, but when I got to the repair shop and talked to the ladies there it really made my day. They were so nice and helpful, and fixed my jacket zipper almost instantaneously.  They also didn’t make me feel too bad about having what is generally an unpronounceable first name here.

After getting directions from those ladies, I went on to the shoe repair place. This was a much more official type operation.  With any luck I will have my boot back tomorrow morning, zipper fixed.

And then I carefully trudged back to the apartment, exhausted.  My number one lesson from today is that the word for zipper is “молния”.  Fun fact.

Best and Worst Things

The past few days have been weird, full of things that either made me smile or made me want to shake my fist at the universe.  Here’s the short list, see for yourself which things fit into which category.

  • saying goodbye to international friends who are leaving Russia
  • gasps of delight from students I had last semester when I walked into the classroom on the first day of classes
  • having to ride the bus during rush hour when it is super crowded and the heat is on full blast
  • having to ride a bus off-peak that has no heater and watching the snow fall through the roof onto your lap
  • only having to ride the bus to the northern district once a week
  • not falling down at the ice skating rink because of my own clumsiness
  • falling down at the ice skating rink because some guy who was a little tipsy plowed into me (and he was still better of course)
  • feeling the tip of my nose freeze when I go outside
  • missing my university choir’s 150th reunion
  • getting a recap of YGC’s reunion
  • putting on my gigantic bunny-lined coat and feeling like I’m wearing a sleeping bag but also not feeling cold
  • making summer travel plans
  • realizing that it’s already halfway through February and that it’s impossible for winter to last forever

So not the most exciting but hey, I worked for four whole hours today, I’m exhausted! And for those of you who are wondering what I did for Valentine’s, I ate delicious pizza and watched Match Point.

The Dangerous Life

I know many people back home are worried that Russia is a dangerous place, especially with the recent attacks at Domodedovo.  Living in Voronezh, however, I usually feel quite safe.  My friends always make sure to walk me back to my apartment at night, for example,  and I’ve never felt unsafe the way I sometimes did walking around late at night in New Haven.  As the winter wears on, I have started to feel unsafe in ways that I would not have expected.

1. Treacherous Icewalks. I know that this isn’t anything new, but this week has been especially bad because we had a few warm days when everything turned into slush before the weather got really cold again and all the slush turned into ice.  It’s much harder to walk on uneven ice-covered sidewalks than I imagined. It requires complete concentration (for me at least, novice).  Eyes remain on the ground two feet in front of me.  Preferred method is reminiscent of a penguin waddle.

2. Icicles, also known as Hanging Daggers of Death. Ok, to be honest, I thought that the whole icicles-falling-and-injuring-people was a bit of an urban legend.  Something Russians liked to tell foreigners, to show how extreme winter is here. So I used my brain, googled the words “icicle death Voronezh” in Russian, and OH MY GOD A WOMAN DIED LAST YEAR WHEN SHE WAS IMPALED BY AN ICICLE.  On the next street over from where I live.  This is so terrible and tragic, she was walking with her pregnant daughter when an icicle fell and mortally wounded her.  Someone else was seriously injured last month when an icicle fell on his head “with the speed of a bullet from a gun”.  Now I’m extra paranoid and trying to look out (up?) all the time for falling ice and I can’t walk under or near buildings.

It takes me twice as long to get anywhere, with all the ice-shuffling and icicle-watching.

3. Falling Ice Blocks. In order to prevent death-by-icicle, most buildings have janitors or people who will go on the roof and basically chop the ice off.  This is good. Except for when you’re walking on the sidewalk and suddenly all around you these huge blocks of ice are falling like bombs.  If you’re not part of the problem, you’re part of another problem.

4. Car Crashes. Unrelated, but when two of my friends were walking me back to my place on Monday, we were waiting to cross the street when an accident happened right in front of us.  In fact, the light had changed and it was our turn to go when a car accelerated through the intersection, running its red light, and smashed into an oncoming car. Ok, so this isn’t as big of a deal, except that if we had started crossing the street when the light changed, either we would have been much closer to the accident or the crazy driver would have crashed into us instead of the other car.  AHH.  Clearly this isn’t Russia and winter-specific; I’ve seen more than my share of accidents and near-accidents driving on the freeways in L.A.  For some reason, though, the screeching brakes and awful sound of impact still freaks me out.


Those are the main ones.  Don’t worry though, I will be fine.  I am extra vigilant.  As my friend’s dad told me, “Look at the ground, look up, when you’re on the street always be careful.  You can rest once you’re in your apartment.”

Unless…no I’ll leave the Dante’s Peak water story for another day.

Taking Stock

So, for those of you not in the loop, I was working all of last week but I get this week off to relax before my classes with students start next Monday.  Everyone keeps asking me, what are you going to DO with a whole week off?? And I’m just realizing that it’s past midnight on Wednesday, which means it’s already Thursday, and I’ve managed to do more relaxing than planning for the semester.  Of course.  But I’ll get to that tomorrow.

What have I been doing then? Well for one, I’ve been getting enough sleep.  “Enough sleep” for me equals not less than 8.5 hours, which can be difficult during the workweek, but this week I’ve just been killing it with lots of nighttime and daytime sleep.  Awesome.

I’ve also had enough time to read in Russian, which takes a significant amount of time for me.  A perfect morning for me is sitting by the window/radiator, slogging through some Russian with a big cup of coffee and my laptop open to an online dictionary, and watching my notebook of new vocab fill up (more quickly than it should, I don’t know anything).  I made a promise to myself to read more this semester and so far it’s happening.  Also there’s nothing more satisfying than not having to look up a word in a text message because you already read it that morning in Собачье Сердце and remember what it means.  (for the record, the word was морда, which Reverso tells me means “muzzle” when talking about an animal or “mug” when talking about a person.)

I’ve also been able to see friends and do fun things.  Or do “fun” things.  Yes, the dreaded ice rink again!  It was the third time, and at first I just felt like I had never even been once.  It’s worse than bike riding I think.  This time I was mostly by myself, because I didn’t want to bother my friends too much and they are also not experts, and while it was a little frustrating to be moving so slowly I could actually move by myself.  I could get all cheesy about the difference between the time I went in November and this time, and make it all metaphorical and deep and significant, but I’m not going to.

Well.. No.  The thing is, I’ve realized in the past week or so that I am not going to be in Russia forever.  Everyone’s thinking, duh smarty, but really.  In the fall,  especially when things were a little more difficult with getting my students motivated or when I was homesick, I felt like the whole 10 months stretched out endlessly before me.  Going home at Christmas helped a bit, and certainly our seminar in Moscow, but now I am realizing that it’s already practically the middle of February and time is rushing onwards.  I think the two things that happened to make me realize that are that the new American cadets who are studying here this semester just arrived, and one of my closest friends in Voronezh is leaving next week to go back and start her last semester of university in Germany.  I can’t believe she’s already leaving, and of course it’s sad for me, but it also makes me realize that I’m also not going to be living in Voronezh forever.  In fact, I have about four months left before I leave Russia.  I’m over halfway, and it means that now I can really enjoy things, because I know that time is only going to go by faster once classes start next week.

Plus, I have lots of things to look forward to! There are more holidays this semester, for one. Also, my favorite mother (ha) and my oldest sister are coming to visit me here next month, which is incredible.  I’m also hoping on visiting another ETA who’s in Sochi at some point this spring, to experience the Hawaii of Russia.  And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that possible other travel plans for June materialize (ahem, Blessing!).  The outlook is good.

Finally, I’ve realized in the past week or so that there is life after Voronezh, and different possibilities are emerging.  It makes me that much more enthusiastic for everything in the next four months, because I have the perspective now that this is an incredible but limited time in my life and is one that is rushing to a conclusion.

I was trying to fall asleep a few nights ago when suddenly out of nowhere my heart gave a little leap, and I thought, “Oh my God! I’m in Russia.  I’m living in Russia.” I want that feeling – that feeling is my motto for the rest of my time here.


Ok I promise I will try and be more concrete and less reflective next time. But did you really think you would get by without an ooh-we’re-halfway-there entry? Hmm??


Why Girls Have to Wear Makeup in Russia

One of the first cultural adjustments I made to living in Russia was wearing more makeup, more often.  In California, especially, and during the summer, I go for the less-is-more natural look.  In Russia, for fear that no one will take me seriously (“I have tried to be a serious man!” anyone?) without the whole eyeliner, mascara, lipstick bit, I have taken a much more heavy-handed approach.  Today I was reminded why this is necessary part of my life here.

I was on my way to my friend’s for dinner today, when, not wanting to show up empty-handed, I stopped into the supermarket to buy a bottle of wine.  Having recently woken up from a nap, and already running late, I had rushed through my usual routine and left the house without eyeliner, without lipstick.  Big mistake.  After a few minutes of trying to choose a suitable bottle (I don’t know anything about wine), I made my selection and made my way to the cashier.  The girl scanned the bottle, told me the amount, and then kind of looked at me funny and asked:

Cashier: Are you older than 18?

Me: What?

Cashier: Are you older than 18?

Me: Yes…?

Cashier: Do you have your passport?

Me: Yes…

So then I had to rifle through the bottomless purse, find the copies of my documents, find the folded up copy of my passport, find where it said the date.  This girl, by the way, is probably a good year or two younger than I am.  Finally, she was satisfied, and I paid and was on my way.

I got carded in Russia.  In Russia!  For wine!  But I have learned my lesson, and henceforth shall continue with the whole routine if I want people to treat me like a real adult.

Photographic Evidence

I finally got the iPhoto situation fixed, by schlepping my computer to Barak’s and taking advantage of the wildly fast wi-fi there.  As promised, some pictures from Moscow.

View from my room on the 19th floor, looking south towards the city center.  The smokestacks, the spires!


This is the bridge we crossed to get to Парк Искусств/Sculpture Park! Look at those cars zooming by!

This is something we passed on the way to Sculpture Park! Unfortunately I didn’t get a single picture of it that had the whole monument but not my breath. I realize that it’s not a photographic masterpiece.  I just thought it was interesting.  And yeah, it was cold enough that in order to get a breath-less picture you had to make a concerted effort not to breathe which I failed to do.

That’s me! I know it’s hard to tell, because it’s too far away to tell that I’m not photogenic, but I promise it’s me.