Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Latest

Cmeпaн Дж-bич (Stepan J-vich - "Steven son of J" in Russian) in all his glory. He's starting to become quite the crawler, and has added pulling himself up to a standing position (which is usually followed by crashing to the floor when he loses his balance) to his repertoire. He also said his first word, "Dada" the other day. I looked at him when he was babbling while lying on the bed and said "Steven, can you say 'Dada'?" To my surprise, he looked right at me and said "Dada!" I wasn't sure if it wasn't just a coincidental babble, so I asked him again, and sure enough, he came right back with "Dada!" I'm pretty sure he doesn't connect the word with me, but he did repeat it, at least. Anyway, on to the regular content!

Many moons ago, when we first began to blog, we had stated that it was our intention to post something roughly once a week. If one were to look through our past history, one might notice that this lofty goal has not been something we've lived up to by any stretch of the word "weekly." However, with this post, a mere 7 days after our last one, we have one of the rare exceptions. And it's not so much an issue of so much happening in our lives as it is of me being here on an afternoon with nothing else to do and a reliable internet connection. This week we've managed to exceed our targets for language study, and thus an afternoon at friends' was in order.

That said, what have we done in the past week? The pics follow:

Actually, this took the day before our last post (or somewhere thereabouts), but I didn't have room for it in our last post. One of our adventures here was a trip to Red Square on the Russian Independence Day (from the USSR) to see the proceedings. As it turned out, the promised parade did not materialize, but they did have what seemed to be a graduation ceremony from the local ROTC. The mayor of Moscow spoke, they were awarded medals of some sort, and then it was over. If you look closely, the orange bricks in the background are part of the Kremlin wall.

Also since our last post, we got to have a picnic with the team in one of the local parks. One thing I have to say in Moscow's favor - there are a lot of great parks. For a city of 12 million, you'd never know it when you go into the middle of one of these things where all you can see is trees. I've never seen a city with so many of them, or such nice ones. The park we picnicked in has a couple of ponds, a series of gardens, gazebos, and pathways through the woods.

Today we took our first trip to the local "Wal-mart." Actually, for any of you who knew B in the US, you know how much she likes used clothes stores. Well, last week we had an "incident" with our laundry (B washed a rag from the guest apartment with our clothes, which looked old and thus she assumed it had been washed before; however, apparently this assumption was wrong). Short version is that all of our clothes are a lovely shade of pink. While this really isn't an issue for most of B's clothes or things like boxer shorts, I'd have to say that pinkish-grey is not really my color. Here, however, was our salvation - used T-shirts for $10 a kilo! I picked out three for the tidy sum of $8, and B got a couple of things as well.

I don't have a picture of this, but yesterday I also got to attend a Spanish Club meeting here in Moscow with our Russian teacher, who is learning Spanish. I even met someone else from Bolivia (!), but most of the attendants were Russians who either teach or study Spanish in some form. We ate shashlik (halfway between barbeque and shishkebabs), played some volleyball, sang songs in Spanish, and generally did our best to converse. It was neat for me to speak Spanish for a while, but I did keep getting confused with all the Russian that's now floating around in my head. The main point of the exercise (for me, at least) was to make some new Russian friends, which I was definitely able to do. I got a lot of chances to practice my Russian with new folks, which was ... interesting. I made a lot of mistakes, but everyone was patient, and it was definitely fun.

In last week's edition of What is it For?™, we have a slightly easier entry than last week, though not much less surprising. Actually, the question here is more What Are They Doing?™, so the challenge is to guess what these folks who we saw on a recent trip to the park are up to. You might have to click on the picture to see it better; B blanched at the idea of walking up to some guy in a Speedo and taking his picture, so this is a cutout of the actual picture she took, which had me in the foreground to conceal her real purpose.

Congratulations to last week winner: Joy "Mystery Woman" Sleep, who recognized the battered metal box as a stand-alone garage. They seem too small to get a car into to me, and yet that is actually what they're for. Some are a little bigger than the one we put on the blog, but that size does work for the European-size cars some people drive here.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Relearning the Alphabet

So, we have now officially completed our first two weeks of language classes. To this point, B and I have studied together, since we were just going over phonetics and the different sounds each letter can make. Trust us, in Russian, that's a lot of sounds, and, more importantly, sounds that we're not used to saying!

This week we begin our regular lessons, meaning that we'll split up since we're at different levels of Russian. I (J) will take the morning shift with our teacher, and then we have an hour and a half for me to walk back to the apartment, take over Steven, and for B to leave and make it to her class. She'll take the afternoon shift with the lesson, and I'll watch Steven. Somewhere in there, we need to mix in a 2-hour stint with a language helper (daily for me, and twice a week for B). Of course, beyond that, we have lots of homeworks and drills to listen to and repeat. Oh, and at some point in all of our language study, we need to mix in some culture study and file all the data we learn about the Russian culture in our computer. It might sound like a lot, but others have done it before us, some with more and older children, so we're confident it can be done.

Here's a sample of one of J's notebook pages, in which he's written (OK, copied) a nice paragraph about Chapayeva Street.

In this shot, I took a picture of the whiteboard after I had written up the declension of the nouns "table" and "week" (one masculine and one feminine). Russian has 6 cases, meaning that nouns can have any of 6 different endings, depending on how the word is used in the sentence. On the left is the list: nominative, accusative, prepositional, genitive, dative, and instrumental. Actually, if you take into account that a Russian noun can have a different set of endings whether it's masculine, feminine, or neuter, that animate and inanimate objects have different endings, of course singular and plural differences, something else I'm forgetting, and the 6 cases, I think I counted 120 possible different endings for nouns at one point. Yikes!

Last week, our friends David and Erin, who are just finishing their stint here learning Russian and moving East, had a party for us to meet some Russian friends. Here you see the menu, typically Russian - Blini (Russian crepes), boiled potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and bread. Of course, we drank hot tea, which is practically a requirement.

Russians fix their blini with a variety of things, but one of the most popular is caviar. It's available in red and black varieties. You put it on the blini with some sour cream, and voila - extreme fishiness is yours. Caviar is basically fish eggs, and to me it tastes like you took the fishy flavor and concentrated it into little balls of fish flavor. If you like fish, you'll love it. If you're not a fish fan, you would probably hate it. I happen to be neutral toward fish, so caviar was, well, just OK. I certainly wouldn't pay a premium to eat it regularly, but it's kinda nice as a now-and-again treat, I suppose. Give me a few years, and I'll probably love it.

Instead of a Blog Debate, this week's blog introduces a new feature of A Wandering Family: What is it For? In this feature, you'll examine a picture and try to guess what the item pictured is used for in Russia. Alternatively, we might show you some people doing something and you guess what it is. In this photo, J is standing next to a metal box of some sort - can you guess what it's for?

Monday, June 4, 2007

Bet you never thought it got hot in Moscow!

Can anyone read this sign? Hint: the transliteration would be "Krasnaya Ploshchad"

Yep, folks, that's right. It has been officially hot here: 34 C the other day! I don't know exactly what that works out to in Farenheit, but it's hot (maybe 90-95?).

And what have we been up to in the heat? Lots of things. An adventure downtown to Red Square and the Kremlin, suppers with our friends, and today we officially started language study. Actually, today was just orientation, so we mostly just talked about how the things will go, schedule, etc. It looks like for the first two weeks we have phonetics together, and then we'll split up for our regular lessons. We're already at a little different levels, and so I'll be there in the morning and then B will take the afternoon class shift. We have an hour and a half in between, so we need to live within a 45 minute walk from the classroom in order to give time for me to walk home, take Steven, and send B on her way to class on time. If we do end up taking some of our friends' apartment, it's only a 30-minute walk, so that'll give us a window for error.

Anyway, on to the pictures of our latest wanderings:

On our downtown adventure, we got off the metro (on which I'll post more another day; amazingly efficient!) near the Lyubyanka (sp?), the old headquarters of the KGB. Not a very nice building, and not a very nice history.

However, right down the street - evidence of how much things have changed from the old communist days. From the KGB headquarters to the new capitalist headquarters: Moscow Bentley and Lamborghini, in just a 2 minute walk.

So, here we are at the north end of Red Square, looking south toward St. Basil's Cathedral, with the Kremlin on the right and GUM (the old government department store) on the left.

B models the latest in Western tourist-wear in front of Lenin's tomb and the Kremlin wall.

Here we are in front of the spectacular St. Basil's Cathedral. The colors are even more vibrant in real life. Really something to see, and a really interesting history. You can read all about it on the wikipedia site. Obviously, Steven is not as enthused.

If you're anything like me, you've always wondered how it would look if you took an American shopping mall, and had it redesigned by a 19th century architect in a semi-Gothic (?) style. Here's your answer - the GUM department store/mall.

After that, we wandered down the Novy Arbat. I took this picture because of the eclectic mix of architectural styles. I love how the Orthodox church looks dwarfed by the boxy apartment building, and right across the street (though you can't see it in this pic), there's a brightly lit neon Vegas-esque strip.

Steven's dealing with the heat well, mostly because he's allowed to take off most of his clothing. He obviously hasn't suffered any weight loss since we've gotten here. :)

Anyway, maybe next time we'll post something about how our language study is going. You'll need to brush up on your Cyrillic alphabet, so get to it.