Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Last Bus

My parents wanted pictures of what it looks like on public transport here in St. Petersburg. It's been too cold to take my hands out of my gloves to operate a camera, so I'll share this video from Youtube.

The song playing is "Midnight Trolley Bus" by Bulat Okudzhava, a famous Soviet singer-songwriter. It's a beautiful song and captures that feeling of being on the bus late at night here in St. Petersburg. I'd post the English translation but it would just sound goofy. He's basically singing that when he's feeling down, he likes to catch the midnight bus (midnight is when public transport stops, so it's the last bus) and he likes how the bus picks up all those who are wrecked and need a rescue. In the silence and stillness on the bus he imagines so much kindness. I told you it would sound goofy. It's not exactly my feelings about public transportation here, but, hey, it's something.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Second Maslenitsa

Last week was Maslenitsa, think Fat Tuesday, Russian style. It's my second Maslenitsa here in Russia, you can read about my first here. It's the beginning of the Lenten season in Russia, but it looks a little different here. As I came home from work on Friday (the 12th) I found that there was a stage set up in the park in front of my apartment building with a man dressed up as a court jester leading a large group of children in traditional Russian dances. He would shout, "Now spin around! Faster! Faster!" This mass of children, all hopped up on sugar and loud noises, would follow his every command: "Now jump on one foot! Faster! Faster!"

It looked like a lot fun and they had kiosks selling pancakes, crepes, and other sugary sweets and there were all sorts of games set up all over the small park. I was thinking about heading into the park and joining in the festivities when I noticed who was putting it on: the ruling party of Russia. This whole carnival was being put on by the ruling party (whose name I won't type so I can keep my visa a few more months); the whole thing was a ruling party youth rally. It struck me a little like the Roman emperors putting on the games to get people to like them. I didn't join in the fun, for political reasons, and I was glad I didn't, because as I got into my apartment, from which I can hear every sound coming from the park, they began doing the Chickie Dance song. A narrow escape.

I guess I just wasn't in the holiday spirit. I'm not really fond of Maslenitsa. I like the whole eating pancakes tradition, that's great, but then they also do this thing where they have a bonfire and burn a "Lady Maslenitsa" effigy. It's kind of a pre-Christian Russian tradition about the end of winter and the coming of spring. The thing is, though, is that it is still about 5 degrees F outside. Winter hasn't ended. It was -15 F with wind chill the other day. So, what is this hopping about in the snow and eating pancakes? It's forced merriment, really. Forced by the ruling party. I'll celebrate the end of winter when it gets up to 40 F.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's February, It's Still Cold

It looks like it's been a while since I last updated. I guess the main reason I haven't has been that not that much has changed. It's still cold. Really cold. Like -15 F cold.

Last week was pretty interesting. On Monday we discovered that about 20-30% of the students were at home sick, another 20-30% probably should have been home as well, and two kids threw up in the first period alone. This, coupled with half the high school being gone the second half of the week (basketball team had a tournament in Budapest) led to the decision to call school for the rest of the week. I've spent this week mostly in my home trying desperately not to get sick, getting sick, and then staying sick.

Next Friday I'll be heading off to Moscow on the night train. I'll be taking the Foreign Service Officer Test at the embassy there. If I pass the test, the essay questions, the interview in DC, and a posting opens up, I could be working in a US consulate or embassy this time next year. However, all those ifs are pretty big ifs. But even if I don't pass the test (like 80% of first time takers), I'll at least have a little time in Moscow.