Friday, January 22, 2010

It's Russia, It's Cold

The other day, our science teacher figured out that it was -34.6 degrees F with the wind chill factored in. That's cold.

My buddy gave me ride in his car to the bank. I hopped out at the ATM, got my money, came back, and couldn't shut the door because the latch had frozen. We drove back with me holding the door closed.

A falling icicle killed someone the other day.

While walking home the other night, it was so cold I wanted to sit down and cry, but then I figured my eyes would freeze shut and then my organs would slowly start shutting down and I would die; I kept on walking.

Russians love ice cream in the winter. I think because you can walk around with it for half an hour and it won't melt. It will actually get harder, like my heart when it gets this cold.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

IASP Christmas Concert

If you want to watch the IA Christmas concert, click here. It takes place on the third floor (where the secondary classrooms are) of our new building. Behind the advanced band (pt. 1) is my classroom; also, you will get a chance to see the IASP headmistress. If you think she's speaks a little slowly, remember two things: she's from Texas and over half of the audience is Korean.

In pt. 2 you will see the lower elementary perform Mele Kalikimaka. It was my idea that they do this. I thought it would provide a nice counterpoint to frigid St. Petersburg winter. I was pleased to see that the parent who filmed this and put it up on YouTube edited out the boring parts of the performance. Well played.

Skip pt. 3; it's kids signing "Jingle Bells." In pt. 4 the older elementary kids get into the act. Pt. 5 has highlights of Beginning Band (which consists of basically the entire jr. high).
Pt. 6 is the Secondary Choir (which is over half of the entire high school and jr. high). So, if you are wondering what the student body of IASP consists of, this is the place to see it. In pt. 7, 4 seconds in, you get a glimpse of Kevin, one of the guys I go play pool with every now and then. In addition to Kevin, you get to see the Advanced Band. And they are good. Very good. One of the girls plays for the St. Petersburg Youth Orchestra. They handle that Tchaikovksy medley pretty well. The crowd gets into the act in pt. 8. That one guy you hear singing above everyone else is John, the other history teacher.

I hope this gives you a little idea of what the school looks like.

"April Come She Will"

The view outside my bedroom window.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So, this is, indeed, the New Year

(top: back in the Frozen North)
(middle: Medvedev with his New Year's address)
(bottom: fireworks in the park, note the haze of gunpowder)

I got back from Germany on the 30th, because I wanted to be sure to be here in St. Pete for New Year's. Russia (St. Petersburg and Moscow in particular) goes wild on New Year's. It's like Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving, and a few other Western holidays all rolled in to one. I returned to a city that winter had laid siege to. The city hasn't had this much snow since 1881, and, since it won't melt off until March/April, there's simply no place for it to go; add on that it all the snowplow drivers and street cleaners are on holiday already...

I had plans to go to Palace Square and ring in the New Year there, but I didn't really have anyone to go with, and if there's one thing I learned in Germany, it's that experiences are best when they're shared. So, I went to a New Year's party that some American friends put on (with the help of a few nationals, of course, to make it a real Russian New Year's party). I was really glad I did, because we had a great time.

In Russia, you don't "watch the ball drop"; you watch the president give his New Year's address. When he finishes, the camera than shows Moscow's equivalent of Big Ben ringing midnight. Now, as soon as you hear the bells, you write down your New Year's wish, light it on fire, throw the ashes (and half-burnt paper) into your glass of champagne, and then down it. If you are able to do it before the clock stops chiming then you will get your wish. After you eat your New Year's dinner, you go outside for a walk (a walk? at night? in the snow? with the deadly icicles about to fall from every building?). The 7 of us went out to light a few fireworks in the park. Now when Russians do fireworks in the park, we're not talking sparklers or bottle rockets, we're talking huge boxes of gunpowder shooting into the sky, shaking windows and setting off car alarms. Once we got that out of our systems we headed back to continue our dinner.

We ran out of drinks about halfway through, so I went down to a little shop I noticed was still open when we set off our fireworks. I went in and wished the man and woman inside a happy new year. One asked me where I was from. I said America. Wow, the man said, and simply held out his hand to shake mine. He shook my hand heartily and told me that he was from Azerbaijan, from Baku. Great, I said. What state are you from, he asked me. California, I said, as he still shook my hand heartily. Wow, he said, great, as he continued to shaking my hand. After getting a few drinks and wishing everyone happy a new year again, I left for the short walk back to the party. Only on New Year's would anyone want to shake hands with an American. Only on New Year's would anyone even care to ask.

As I was walking back, the street was full with people out walking and celebrating. I noticed one particular gentleman who appeared to be a little sauced and appeared to be stumbling my way. I tried to get out of his way, but with so much snow piled high on the curb there was simply no way to avoid him. He reached me and embraced me. Happy New Year, he shouted into my ear as he kissed my cheek (which is then traditionally followed by a second kiss on the cheek). Happy New Year, I returned, as he kissed my other cheek (which is then traditionally followed by a third kiss on the lips if you are really happy to see that person). He went for the third kiss on the lips, but I was culturally insensitive and his third kiss was met with my cheek again. Finally, after a few more "Happy New Year's," he let me go. It was quite a night and my roommate and I didn't get back to our place until around 5 in the morning. Russians just really, really like New Year's.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Impossible Germany (Pt. 3)

One of the nice things about this trip to Germany was that we always had access to a car. Julian's dad works for Mercedes and signs cars out to test. Most of the time we were zipping along the autobahn in a little black sports car, but when we needed another car, Julian's dad signed out a 2011 M class SUV that he had helped design for the weekend. He works at the headquarters in Stuttgart. The headquarters and plant there is about the size of a small city. One of the buildings in the city is the Mercedes Museum, which we went to Sunday afternoon. I'm not much of a car guy, but the museum was very cool. They did a great job incorporating world and German history with automotive and Mercedes history.

On Monday we drove out to Ludwigsburg to go see the Swabian version of Versailles, Ludwigsburg Palace, and walked around a bit.

Tuesday was the day that we left for Frankfurt for Julian's grandfather's 80th birthday. This was by far the most awkward part of the trip, with all of his children and friends in one place and Amy and I just smiling and trying not to be awkward, but it was still a good time. And the food was incredible, absolutely incredible. Right after we arrived at his grandparents' home, the city choir came by to sing for him. Then, after eating, we immediately headed to this restaurant for the actual dinner. I think about half of the 20+ people there had no idea who I was or what I was doing there, but Julian's grandmother was very sweet and is hilarious so it wasn't too bad. Then, after eating, we headed back to their house for more food. Since I was flying out of Frankfurt early the next morning we spent the night there, and I was relieved to have an opportunity to lie down and not have to eat anything.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Impossible Germany (Pt. 2)

top: walking around the old town in Esslingen
middle: the cathedral in Strasbourg
bottom: Julian, Jared, and I in the old town in Strasbourg

On Christmas Day Julian, Amy, and I we went and walked around Esslingen. It's a nice little city on the Neckar River and has an old town and a castle overlooking the city. The day after that we drove to Strasbourg, France, to go hang out and meet up with my friend Jared and his fiancee. This EU thing is weird; I didn't even need to bring my passport with me. The old town in Strasbourg is actually an island in the middle of the Ill River. The best site there is the Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg. It's pretty impressive and was even the tallest building in the world for over 200 years. We had a lot of fun just hanging out and walking around.

On Sunday we went to the cathedral in Esslingen to hear a performance of Bach by the city orchestra. After the service and performance, we walked around Esslingen a bit more. Julian's parents own an apartment in the old town and rent it out. Julian jokingly asked his mom if they would kick out the current tenants if he and Amy got engaged and wanted to live in it. Without hesitation she said, "Ja, ja..."