Monday, January 25, 2010

Tasty Morsels Consumed:

Master and Commander
A Wrinkle in Time
The Bhagavad Gita
Charlotte's Web
Sideways Stories from Wayside School
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
No Second Chance
I Was Dr. Mengele's Assistant
Mansfield Park
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The Emperors of Chocolate

I had a lot of leisure-reading time, especially home at night while Lesya was busy and it was too late or cold to be outside. Some of the books were actually from the bookshelf at school, hence my tendency towards children's literature. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a breath of fresh air, almost like an inside-out Austen novel. Anne Bronte doesn't seem to get as much attention as her sisters, but the heroine she created was so independent and strong; I really enjoyed it. The first time I was introduced to A Wrinkle in Time was when my dad read it out loud to my sister and I years ago. It was equally awesome this time around. And I still can't wrap my mind around tessering. Fanny Price, the main character in Mansfield Park was a little wuss. Enough said. I read The Emperors of Chocolate simply because it was the last book in English that I could get my hands on. A 400-something page overview of Hershey and Mars is not normally something I would read, but now I know all sorts of weird chocolate information that would probably win me some money on Jeopardy. I don't understand why Tom Sawyer was so much easier than Huckleberry Finn. And I may have cried at the end of Charlotte's Web, but I would never admit it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

St. Sophia Cathedral

The statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the bell tower of St. Sophia cathedral.

From the bell tower, looking down on the statue and St. Michael's monastery down the street.

Towards Independence Square.

St. Sophia cathedral, from the bell tower.

The cathedral, from inside the complex.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kiev-Pechersk Lavra

This is the big tourist draw of Kiev. The Lavra is also known as the "Caves Monastery," because of its complex web of underground tunnels and caves. The Reverend Anthony first settled in one of the caves in 1051, which has since grown into an extremely complicated maze of tunnels, caves, living quarters, and underground chapels. In the 16-17th centuries, the catacombs supposedly stretched for hundreds of kilometers, reaching as far as Moscow (thanks, Wikipedia!). We joined the never-ending stream of pilgrims and tourists visiting the Lavra, and walked through a small section of the caves. In strict accordance with the time-honored view of females as sinning temptresses, we had to cover our hair with head-scarves and wear skirts. I was wearing jeans, so I slipped on an elastic-waisted skirt over my pants. The men, of course, were acceptable as is. We each carried a long, slender candle through the crowded tunnels, relighting each other's as the draft blew them out. We were there as tourists, but the Lavra is a huge pilgrimage destination, and we watched as travelers from all over crossed themselves and kissed the caskets of buried saints. The caskets were open and covered with clear glass, letting us see the strangely-short corpses.

The entrance church to the catacombs.

Most, but not all, of the group with our head native-coordinator, Tania.


The rest of the complex included a bell tower and some seriously impressive gold domes.

Note the headscarf and the reluctant skirt.

My people.

The Bible says that the church with the gaudiest buildings wins, right? 

The sweet babushka in charge of this dark little chapel let us sing our English hymns quietly together. I think the echo resonated in every language.

I got sick of wearing the skirt so Austin picked up the slack for a couple hours.

The bell tower played a booming song for twenty or thirty minutes. One of the men up there looked down while our guide was telling us something. I wasn't paying much attention, so I noticed the man and waved up to him. He waved back at me and then videotaped our group as the rest of them began waving too. I felt like the song was played for me, just a little bit.

Side note: I can see the Lavra from my bedroom balcony. In the photo at the top of the page, the Lavra is under the word "Plans." You can see the bell tower and gold domes to the right. My neighborhood is called Pechersk, and the word pechera means cave. As Bill Nye the Science Guy would say, "Now you know!"

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Snow is a lot colder than I expected.

One of my biggest regrets is not getting the chance to know KayAnna better. She taught at a different school than I did, we didn't live near each other, and we didn't have any vacations together. We set aside a Saturday and went to Andrivsky Street, Kiev's number one place for tacky tourist trinkets, Soviet Union leftovers, and pickpockets. Actually, the metro probably has the most pickpockets, but we were warned over and over about the ones on Souvenir Street, as it's called. KayAnna and I moseyed along a path than runs behind a bunch of apartment buildings, overlooking Podil, the old section of the city. The walk is well-hidden from the main street and drops down into forest on one side.

We crawled through this, in a very dignified manner, of course.

Picturesque, sure, but also fake. They ran out of money in the middle of building this new complex, so it's just sitting vacant.

Ukraine in a nutshell. Remember the Fanta guy?

Captain Hook's favorite bench.

A whole complex of mosaic monsters.

Rickety stairs to the forest. We went down slowly, trying not to slip on the snow or fall through, and a Ukrainian guy just zooms by, "Be careful girls!" Thanks, man.

We came out behind some shops and apartments, and found stuffed bodies in the snow.

Creepy, in an abandoned-circus-hangout way.

Somebody spent time on those pictures.

But it probably wasn't this guy.

I'd had my eye on the old Soviet cameras for weeks, so Santa Clause emailed me and told me that if I bought one that he would reimburse me. This is my new love, a medium-format "Moskva-5" camera, made in 1958. It shoots 6x9 OR 6x6, which is nifty. I have lovingly researched and cleaned it since I got home. If I had any money at all, I would buy film for it. I call it my "Communist Camera."

After the stuffed bodies and the eerie silence of the snow-sprinkled woods, KayAnna and I cut through an alley and found ourselves partway down the descent of Andrivsky street. We split up and got our shopping done quickly, since neither of us are big shoppers and it was wickedly and bitingly cold. We reunited and ducked into the nearest cafe that seemed likely to have an English menu. It turned out to be a way-overpriced French place, but it was warm and the hot chocolate was so dark and rich, served in goblets with straws, that it warmed more than just our glaciated bodies. The lights glowed, strangers laughed with each other, and the toilet paper was soft. I may or may not have stolen some.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Post Script

I'm back in the United States with a laundry list of things I don't want to forget. They're pretty small, looking back, but small is still something.

Пузата Хата aka Puzata Hata. Although I generally shy away from huge restaurant chains, this place was a food haven for us. Most restaurants either had an "English" menu (sometimes so roughly translated that it still seemed to be another language) or we could point to a picture and gesture about what to order, but that always came with a degree of embarrassment, putting ourselves on display as non-speaking tourists. Puzata Hata is buffet/cafeteria-style, so we could just walk down the line with our trays and pick up dishes of whatever looked good. Other perks: a warm, clean place to hang out for as long as we wanted (sometimes hours) without the workers getting grumpy with us,  decent prices. I think my Puzata Hata visits averaged out to about once a week.

One night my sister went to bed early, wishing me good-night in English and then wishing her mom good-night, "Спокойной ночи." This is one of those phrases that plays on repeat in my head, so I can say it pretty well, so after Lesya said спокойной ночи to her mom, I thought I'd try it out. I smiled and said it to Lesya as she shut the door, but before she could leave, her mom started laughing and talking to her. I didn't understand, but Lesya told me, "She says you are a parrot." I can just see this Ukrainian mother, with her little American repeating phrases like a bird. I don't know who laughed more, me or her.

I sat next to an old woman on the bus, and when she tried to ask me a question I had to admit to speaking only English. Like everybody else who I tell "I only speak English," she chattered at me some more in Ukrainian, hoping to make me understand. I smiled, shook my head, and told her "English" again. She smiled and asked me if I spoke Russian, and I answered, "Нет." She laughed and asked, "Deutsch?" With gestures and a lot of laughing, we had a whole conversation, even though we shared no common language.

Russian classes for the teachers were supposed to be weekly, but between the swine flu scare and a lack of communication, we ended up having only 5 or 6 lessons. An older Ukrainian lady, Tania, came around to each school for an hour each week. Since Jill and Lynsie, the other teachers at my school, didn't show up for the lessons half the time, I had one-on-one Russian lessons with Tania. These usually consisted of flashcard practice, reading out loud, conversation practice, and answering questions like "Where is the park?" with "The park is to the left." Tania wrote out by hand information and phrases for us to study, and on the last day even gave us a cd of Russian and Ukrainian music. On her way out the door for the last time, she looked me in the eye and said, "Alena, be happy." Then she looked around, making sure the others couldn't hear, and furtively whispered, "You are my favorite! Shhh!"

From what I gather, this is the general opinion of Ukraine's prime minister, Юлiя Тимошенко:

 This is what she looks like with her face attached:

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