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Silent wishes from Karelia

On our last week in Russia we went on a 4-day cruise to the Republic of Karelia (a part of Russia that used to belong to Finland). We got to see two monasteries and several museums and small villages. We traveled on a cruise ship through two rivers to the two biggest lakes in Europe (Lakes Ladoga and Onega). One thing that I really liked about the cruise was that, while everything we did could be considered a "tourist trap" it was targeted at Russians (they like to explore their country, too). When we ate our meals on the boat we sat with three delightful middle-aged women. They were three friends spending their vacation time together, and I can imagine how surprised they were to learn that they would be eating their meals with a five American girl students! We had a lot of fun talking and laughing with them. They told us some things about their lives and culture in Russia and we talked about America and our constant struggles with Russian grammar. On the last day, as we were saying goodbye after breakfast, one of the ladies stood up and spread her hands above us: "Happiness [to you]!" she exclaimed with a big smile. We, with our limited Russian, were not able to utter the eloquent well wishes that the situation called for. So we stared silently at them with big eyes and heart-felt smiles, hoping that they would be able to discern the emotions that we couldn’t express. It seemed to work.

Воистину воскресе!

Easter service in the Russian Orthodox church starts on Saturday night between 11:00 and 11:30 pm. When you walk into the church, the whole building is dark, there is hardly any light. A hidden male choir sings in low, solemn tones. Everyone is given a candle and they stand in the pew-less church, waiting. Just before midnight, everyone (led by the priests and the choir) exit the church and walk around the building three times. This is called the Walk of the Cross. There is no sound, except for the choir's singing of the death of Jesus. After the third round, the congregation enters the church to find the lights shining brightly. The choir (both male and female) starts singing in loud, joyous tones. The priest shouts "Христос воскресе!!" (Christ is risen!) and everyone calls back "Воистину воскресе!!" (He is risen, indeed!). The priest and the congregation repeat this exchange several time. The noise is almost overwhelming. The choir continues their beautiful song. After several rounds of exchange between the priest, choir, and congregation, the liturgy quiets down. The priest turns to the altar and begins reading scripture and chanting prayers. The choir sings in more subdued tones. The rest of the service will continue in this way, with the priest and the choir blending together in song, chant, and prayer. It will be several hours before they conclude their celebration of the resurrection. Because everyone is standing, the people are free to walk around, or leave as they grow tired. The faithful, those with the most stamina, will stay until 3 or even 4 am. After the service the choir and clergy will gather around a table filled with food to break their fast. On this day, both believer and non-believer will celebrate together.


" Gravity is more powerful than love* "

When I was young I loved to play make believe. I visited many worlds. I was a servant and a princess, I could be extremely talented at something or dazzlingly beautiful. I helped people, I solved problems, I saved lives. And I never told anyone about it. One day when I was seven, I was playing in the backyard on our play gym. It was an old structure, built before safety regulations limited the height of a playground, and ours soared high above our sandbox. On the top level there was a steering wheel and I loved to pretend that I was a ship captain. I was all alone and it suddenly occurred to me that Mommy probably needed me. Maybe it was already lunch time, maybe Daddy had come home from work, maybe she just wanted to check up on me-- the important thing was that I needed to go inside and see her. I started down the ladder. And I slipped.

Though I remember the event well, I do not remember being in the air. I remember lying on my back on the ground. Green grass surrounded me, the air was warm, the play gym stood over me. Everything was normal. Normal and beautiful.

But though I could clearly sense the beauty of everything around me- I couldn't move. My chest hurt and even though I struggled, it wouldn't expand and my lungs were empty. I couldn't cry for help. I couldn't cry at all.

I haven't had the wind knocked out of me since then. After a few seconds I began to breathe. But I'll never forget the feeling of the ground slamming against my make believe world. That world disappeared. And the ground - the very real ground that has always been ready if I fall - that ground was more real that I was.

(no subject)

There are people out there who don't need many words. They don't defend themselves or boast about themselves. They may or may not be humble, they simply don't think of themselves very often. I am not one of those people. I simply wanted to mention them to you.

Go [North], young [wo]man!

Мы с Мэг ездили в Мендосино в Субботу, 11-ого декабря. У меня уже было 3 экзамена и на следующей неделе будет еще 3 и я хотела приключение. Мэг со мной со всей душой согласилась и мы решили ехать как-нибудь куда-нибудь. Мэг смотрела в разных путеводителях по Калифорнии (моя мама их купила летом, перед нашим поездом из Дакоты в Калифорнию). В начале мы хотели в Lake Tahoe. В августе мы съездили на озеро на 20 минут и было очень красиво. Я тогда подумала, что будет еще красивее, когда будет снег, и хотела поехать зимой. Но прогноз обещал не снег, а дождь, и не только у Lake Tahoe, а по всей Калифорнии. Мы поняли, что надо все по другому делать. Я вспомнила, как Илья мне однажды рассказал про друга, который ездил в Прагу в ноябре, когда все было пасмурно и это как раз сочетало со стилем города. «Нам нужен мрачный город» - объяснила я Мэг. К нашему сожалению, в Калифорнии (по крайней мере, в путеводителях) только светлые, приятные города, куда нужно когда солнца светит и легкий ветерок дует в лицо... А что мы с облаками и дождем будем делать?

Опять Мэг к путеводителю. В этот раз повезло- она нашла городок Мендосино, и прислала мне отрывок из путеводителя по email (у нее был обед, а я была на занятии).

A picturesque community off scenic SR-1 on the rugged north California Coast, Mendocino has many well-preserved 19th century buildings and houses. The architecture reflects the New England roots of early settlers, who were drawn by the rich timber resources of the surrounding countryside. Nearby Anderson Valley is peppered with wineries. The stark beauty of the region attracted many artists in the 1950s, and the town remains a haven for creative folks. The Mendocino Art Center offers exhibits and festivals. .... If you're in town between December and February, make your way to the beach or a rocky outcrop to watch gray whales during their winter migration from Alaska to the Baja Peninsula." Also... "Don't pass up a trip to Mendocino, a sleepy hamlet with adorable New England style architecture, rests on bluffs overlooking a lively blue ocean.

Я сразу поняла, что это точно то, что мне нужно, чтобы прийти в себя после (и до!) экзаменов. Город маленький, спокойный и милый, славится местным искусством и пейзажем, а не звездами и странными зданиями, которые, как я понимаю стереотип, бывают на южной части Калифорнии. Мэг еще мне прислала загугленный маршрут из нашего дома на 551 Watson Стрит до Мендосино-- пять с полавиной часов в одну сторону. «Это слишком далеко?» написала в конце email. Конечно нет! Нам-то приключение нужно, а не отдых! (Надо заметить, что Мэг не водит машину, то есть, права у нее есть, но из-за какие-то сложности со зрением, боится водить. Значит, за рулем буду я.)

Cуббота утром. Мэг проснулась (как мы запланировали) в 7 утра. А я (не как запланировали) только в 7:09, когда я услышала Мэг на кухне, завтрак готовила. Яйца и кукурузные сырники, «Чтобы мы не уставали по дороге». 7:40 взяли с собой кофе и поехали. В плеере играл диск Sufjan Stevens, рождественские песни.

Из Монтерея в Сан-Франсиско можно ехать по разным дорогам. Highway 1 небольшая дорога, идет по берегу и известен тем, что пейзаж живописный. Highway 101 находится 50 километров к востоку, идет через виноградники и сады, не так красиво, как Hwy 1, но дорога лучше. Мы решили ехать по первой дороге утром, а на возвращении ехать по 101, когда уже будет темно. Вид был красивый, но я не очень много видела- за рулем, ради безопасности, вид не может быть супер красивый. Через два часа мы приехали в Сан-Франсиско и добирались до моста «Золотые Ворота». Мост платный ($6!), но только в одну сторону, когда едешь с севера на юг. Мы ехали на север по Золотым Воротам, а когда вернулись мы объехали Сан-Франсиско, тот мост был бесплатный с севера на юг.

Для меня, мост «Золотые Ворота» сказочный, но мне трудно сказать почему. Я стала любить этот мост еще в детстве, когда мой дедушка записал документальную передачу по строительству моста. Я помню как мы с братом и дедушкой не один раз смотрели эту передачу, когда мы приезжали к нему и бабушкой. Еще мы смотрели передачи о Плотине Гувера, Второй мировой войне, и разные комедии.

Мост большой, но не такой большой, как я в детстве представляла. Он красный, но не такой красивый, как я бы хотела. Мне кажется, что он бы хорошо смотрелся на фоне голубого неба, но каждый раз, что я бывала в Сан-Франсиско, не было голубого неба. Все равно, я люблю этот мост, и ехала очень медленно, чтобы успевать сознавать, где я. Тихий океан виден на лево, а на права Алькатрас (о котором у дедушкой также смотрели передачу). Из-за тумана самая верхняя часть моста не видна, но за то, ощущение, что мост поднимается не 220 метров, а тысяча.

После Сан-Франсиско мы ехали по 101 два часа и в городке Кловердейл повернулись на запад по дороге 128. Оказались мы в горах. Дорога перед нами протянулась непонятно куда, то направо, то налево, на верх, в низ! Ехали в горах минут тридцать и потом попали в лес секвойи вечнозеленой. Такой лес! Деревья были огромными, окружали нас как спокойные, спящие гиганты. Я ехала медленнее, чем обычно, Мэг заметила, но ничего не говорила, как будто мы обе не хотели разбудить деревья. Еще в Кловердейле Мэг ставила альбом классических рождественских песен. Получилось как хороший сон или сказка: лес, музыка, хор и оркестр, тишина, других машин не было...

И в сказочном, сонном лесу мы заканчиваем русско-язычную часть нашего приключения (так я буду писать до лета). Unexpectedly, we exited the forest and the ocean was before my steering wheel. A road sign directed my car to the right and we continued our journey with the Pacific on our left. It didn't take long before we had arrived at Mendocino. Our first destination: food. We found a small, natural foods grocery store and purchased bread, cheese, two persimmons (and something else, though what it was escapes my memory). We took our food to the shore and set up our picnic on a bench.

What can you do in Mendocino? Many things. After lunch we walked along the shore, the water was a beautiful deep-blue and the weather was perfect (cloudy, but no rain, brisk, but not uncomfortable). We took pictures (including one of me pretending to fall into the water, and one of Meg pretending to fall out of the sky). We then turned to the town and walked along their Main street, which was lined with expensive tourist stores. We climbed an old, wooden water tower. We found some geese and chatted with a British couple who had come on account of “Murder She Wrote”.

On the street we met two middle school girls. They wanted to ask us questions for their science project and we agreed. “What do we know about chickenpox, have we ever had chickenpox, how old were we when we had it, what causes....” They seemed grateful for our answers, and we were pleased to help with a 6th grade science project.

We only spent a few hours in Mendocino because I didn't want to drive through the Sequoia forest in the dark. On our way out of the town we bought gas. The price was $4.85 per gallon. In South Dakota we consider anything over $3 to be outrageous, so I bought 2 gallons and we left to find cheaper gas in a different city.

I gave Meg the map and told her to find a place for us to eat dinner. Meg picked Petaluma, where, unbeknown to us, was the location of the annual lighted-boat parade. Though the parade was already finished, we saw crowds of people walking along the streets. There was even a piano in the central square, and a man in a old-fashioned tuxedo playing 1920's music. A small river ran through the city's downtown, and across a bridge was a hamburger restaurant. Our table in the restaurant was by a window that faced the river, and we saw all boats were parked in the river, still lighted from the parade. We both ordered burgers and I asked for coffee, knowing that I still had over 2 hours of driving.

As the weather forecast promised, conditions were indeed gloomy, and it began to rain lightly as we drove out of Petaluma. We turned the classical choral Christmas carols album back on and entered the San Francisco Bay Area. The city looked like a wet painting through the rain-spattered windows of my car. San Francisco always leaves a strong impression with me. It doesn't even matter if the impression is good or bad, most often it is neither, it is simply strong. I like the city very much and hope that I'll spend more time there someday.

Ур конверсатион витх май фриенд варид фром сериоус то фунны то слиенции. Ать они поинт вы стартед талкинг абот религион анд И аскед ер, "До ые вант то раисе йор чилдрен ин а чурч?" Ще тхоугхт абот ит фор а минуте анд ансверед, ес, ще вантед ер чилдрен то хаве фаитх. I вантед то аск ер хов кулд ще раисе хер чилдрен ин а чурч, иф ще херселф дид нот белеве ин религион, бут И диднът. Ит воулдньт хаве бен ан хонест кестион-- И коулднът хаве ансверед ит мыселф. Тхе ласт хур оф ур дриве вы роде ин силенце, ич витх ер овн тхоугхц (вхич ать тхат поинт, фор ботич оф ус пробаблы хад море то до витх слеп анд комфортабле, варм бедс, тхан анытхинг оф актуаль сигнифицанце.)

After a grand total of 11 hours in the car, we pulled into Monterey at 11:30 p.m. We were both exhausted, but happy to have had an adventure, to have explored California, and to have proven the guidebook right in its description of “adorable architecture and blue ocean.

The Georgian way of life

Afto, the father of the Georgian (the country) family across the hall is a bit melodramatic and is always ready to invent any number of falsehoods to make a joke.

One day I was cooking and started grating cheese into the pan. He walked up to the stove, looked at the cheese, looked at me and asked incredulously, "You're using cheese?"
"Yes," I replied, "don't you like cheese?"
"Like cheese?? I invented cheese!"

Yesterday Afto, his wife (Julietta) and I were in the kitchen going through our morning rituals and he asked, "Do you like it?"
"What?" I asked
"My outfit," he replied, and made a slight bow. He was wearing a white tank top, tattered gray sweatpants (cut off just below the knees), black socks and black slippers.
"You look like a star from California." I said. His wife snorted good-naturedly and he turned to her.
"Do you see what the American says?" She nodded in full agreement and left to brush her teeth.

Today we were both in the kitchen and he asked me:
Afto: Do you want to go beerit? (I suspect he makes up words that resemble Georgian words)
Me: What?
Afto: Do you want to come drink beer?
Me: No, I don't really like beer.
Afto: (with a suddenly over-forlorn expression) I don't like beer either, but I have to drink it.
Me: Really?
Afto: Yes, they make me drink it. That's why I'm so small. (That part is true, he's no taller than I am.)
Me: I see.
Afto: My wife won't drink it herself, but she forces me to drink beer every day!
Me: That's- that's- a disaster!
Afto: And not only that, it's a big disaster.
He then shook his head, smiled to himself, and trotted off to drink his beer.

May there be peace in the world and money in every Georgian's pocket. (his favorite toast)

Not quite Count Rugen

Count Rugen wrote the definitive work on the subject of pain. Someday I will write the definitive work on the subject of culture shock. But not today. Today I find Russia's little quirks amusing. Yesterday I found them annoying. Yesterday's yesterday I found them full of wisdom and learned something from them. The day before that I wanted to rip my hair out of my scalp from frustration. Sunday I didn't care what happened in Russia, I just missed America. Five days ago I walked around as if in Disney World, magic crunching under my feet and sparkling in the air. 24 hours before that I managed to blend in perfectly and forgot there was any difference between "me" and "them". A week ago I had just finished the whole cycle for the [umpteenth] time and was ready to start all over again.

Perhaps any and every life has its own shocks and there's nothing special or unusual to what we term "culture shock", but I am not yet an expert on such matters. All I know is that my emotions have never been so unstable in all my 23 years as they are now- one day up, the next down, and in a minute back up again. The strangest thing is, I don't mind this so much any more. I enjoy the magic when it comes, tug on my hair a bit, and learn to be just as forgiving to the Russians' strange culture as to my own [vacillating] ability to adapt to it.

Three heads covered in one

The adult women in most Protestant churches in Voronezh attend service with their heads covered. Though I never covered my head in America, I never questioned the tradition here. I have, however, noticed that it's most important to have your head covered during times of prayer, and I ususally leave my head uncovered for the sermon and songs. Last Sunday I was caught off guard when the prayer started, I had 3-year-old Tamara in my arms and was late in pulling my scarf over my head. Tamara was smart enough to help me straighten out the long piece of fabric and position it on my head. A few seconds into the prayer she decided to take it a step farther and pulled one of the ends of my scarf over her own head. Anya, seven, standing at my other side noticed, and quickly placed the other end over her own yellow curls. I heard a slight chuckle behind me, but decided that I wasn't breaking church code or tradition. [After all, in theory, everyone else's eyes should be closed during prayer, and the shouldn't notice the tent-like form created by three human heads and one scarf.) I felt Tamara's little fingers tracing my cheek and my braid and I confess that, while my eyes were closed, my thoughts were far from the prayer. I suspect, however, that God didn't mind.
The weather is still brisk, but there have been enough sunny days to cause a hint of green to cover most of the trees here. I shivered a bit this afternoon as I stepped out of my dorm, but I was determined to catch the few whiffs of spring floating in the air before the temperature drops, as is promised for the next few days. My path took me passed a group of garbage bins, several old ladies sitting on a park bench, two barking dogs and a middle-aged woman pushing a girl in a wheel chair. As I neared the pair I saw that the young woman had cerebral palsy and I paused briefly, hoping to catch her eye. When I did I gave a shy smile, and was completely overwhelmed by the warmth with which she smiled back at me. We both craned our necks as I passed her in order to hold the smile for a second longer. I don't think any smile has ever touched me so deeply.


I had a unit of travel in America last week and tried to explain what it was like to drive through the Midwest. South Dakota becomes increasingly more exciting the farther west you go. Driving through Nebraska you begin to forget your previous life and despair at ever reaching the end. Iowa, with an excess in cows, smells bad.

The concept of interstates was a difficult one for them to understand, so we turned on a nearby computer and pulled up google maps. Dmitri, instead of searching for a decent road map, turned on the satellite view and zoomed in until you could practically see the blades of grass (or stalks of corn, as is more typical in the Midwest). "Dmitri, what are you doing?" we ask. He is my most serious (albeit, laziest) student. "I'm looking for the cows." Alas, a cow's back is indistinguishable from the ground on Google maps and Dmitri left class sorely disappointed.