Thursday, June 30, 2005

It sounds like English

This picture is the interior courtyard of the Rossia Hotel.
The hotel is supposed to be the biggest in Europe or something like that. It was kind of a joke, because we saw a picture on the internet of it when we were researching Russia. It occupies a whole city block, so we wondered what the interior rooms must look out on, and figured they were buried in the building with no view. I didn't think the company would put me up here, because they usually use hotels closer to the office, but when I came in there were no rooms available anywhere else - so guess what. That is where I stayed. It wasn't bad, a little old, and the beds were on the small side, but it was ok. The people were nice as well, and the hotel was clean. The inside of the square is like a mini park. You could get your exercise just walking around the block on a single floor - it's a block on each side!

Culture shock.
It is so strange - I don't quite know how to explain it. Russians seem so much like Americans - so it is a little shock each time they speak and it is unintelligible to me. It is more like going to California and trying to understand why they different from Tennesseans than going around the globe. In England, the people were different - culturally. Similar, but noticeably different. In Latin America, or most other places, the people look different, as well as speaking a different language. So it is a little cultural shock several times a day to be walking around and hearing this strange language intruding unexpectedly.

Another thing has happened several times as well - someone will say something in Russian and it will sound perfectly sensible to me - but it isn't. The Russian words have formed a verbal pattern so similar to an English phrase that it sounds sensible. A guy said something to me in a store yesterday - I thought he said "Drinking whiskey?". It caught me completely off guard, as it was a computer store! I just responded "Excuse me?" and instantly realized that he must have asked me a question in Russian, and said nothing in English about whiskey at all. Either that or I'm hallucinating.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Shaving, electronics, and travel tip stuff

Some nitty gritty about travel to Russia - what is needed, what is not.

Batteries: you can bring em with you or buy em here. American brands are expensive here - at the level of high US pricing. The local varieties and the Asian imports are cheaper, about the level of cheap US pricing. You can find rechargeables locally too, and I have seen recharging units for AA's and AAA's. The trick to the recharging units is being able to find them. It's not like you can ask for the local Target store.

Electronics: razors and computers are often able to accomodate the higher voltage. Most other appliances are not. But, most appliances are readily available here, and reasonably priced by US standards. I have seen both adaptor plugs AND voltage converters in street side shop here. I don't know if they work, and I would still bring an adapter plug with me. You can't be shopping about on your first day in town. The voltage converter said it was good to 100 watts - not enough for a computer, but enough for most other consumer electronics - like boom boxes, hair clippers, etc.

Laundry: I've only priced shirts so far. About $2 ea, or a little on the pricey side by my standards in the US.

I'll add more to this post as I discover it.

The Bolshoi and the bakery

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 5:06:04 AM

I actually got a straight 8 hours sleep last night - but my timing was still off a bit. Went to sleep about 6 PM, and got up at 2 AM. Now it is dawn, and I am in the office.

Haven't written about the Bolshoi yet - and we went Sunday night. The theater is neo-classical on the exterior - complete with an entirely nude Apollo with 4 horse in giant bronze atop the entrance. The entrance portico has the Atheneum look - Corinthian columns with the angled roof. Inside the theater is a typical older theater - limited walking space in the entrance and hallways. They are meant to convey people in and out without much dallying about. Then you enter the theater proper. Wood floors throughout - real wood, and real hardwood at that. The Czar's box dominates the space dead opposite the stage. There are six sets of box seats, five in balconies. I realize that a modern "nosebleed" seat in an American coliseum is higher, but these really look high up! The seats in the middle are chairs. That's right -chairs. Plush bottom, wooden, armrests and wooden ladder-back chairs. They are fastened in rows on metal frameworks. The frames are very unobtrusive tho. And, the chairs are quite comfortable. While we got cheap seats (1850 rubles, or about $65), we are actually in a very nice position - straight out from center stage, and a little closer to the stage than the back of the theater. When the dancers come out we can hear their steps clearly.

The orchestra and acoustics are lovely - warm, balanced and friendly, not overpowering or thin or favoring one range over another. I do wish the orchestra were a little louder, but they are fine, and top quality musicians. The dance pieces are very entertaining, and the audience is enthusiastic. Almost all of the numbers are accorded bravos - and instead of standing ovations, here they clap rythmically, all the audience together, until another bow is performed. We saw quite a few bows, and many bouquets of flowers presented to the primary ballerinas, and even a couple to the men.

I sit through 3 and one half hours of dance. Two intermissions, on the second I have to locate the bathrooms. That was an interesting problem, since I don't know the Russian - either print or spoken - for bathrooms. However, I once again find a gracious and concerned hostess who perceives the probable direction of my wandering, and points me in the right direction with a couple of English words. It was a lovely night, and I think I could do that every once in a while. Given the human dimensions of the theater, and the attitudes of the audience and the company, I think I would enjoy this occasionally.


John had told me of this little French bakery a few days ago, and last night I walked by while they were still open. I buy a few mini-quiche, a couple of brown bread rolls (which turn out to be a mild rye/pumpernickel/wheat mix), and a brown flat muffin looking thingy. The brown muffin thingy turns out to be an apple cake - quite good. The bread is excellent, as are the quiche. While I got two varieties, they both have ham. However, they don't have that somewhat ugly flavor/aftertaste I usually associate with ham in a quiche. Very enjoyable, a nice evening snack, and breakfast the next day.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sunday morning? or late Saturday night!

Sunday, June 26, 2005 7:06:10 AM

Sunday morning - this is the first time that the sky has held some of the brown haze I expect so much in any city I've known. The temperature is pleasant, just on the edge of cool, and slightly humid. In degrees it is probably about 25 C.
I walk the couple blocks to the soup cafe for breakfast - after washing my socks and underwear in the sink. I'll talk about laundry in a minute. On the way I see the dregs of Saturday. A middle aged bum-looking man pries himself off the sidewalk as I pass - he is either disabled or drunk. He needs to grab on to a railing to pull himself into an upright position, levering one leg at a time, to the knees, then half upright, then three/quarters, and before he is fully upright I am past and heading down into the terre haute - the walkway underpass to go under Tverskaya. I see socks and electrical extension cords in the stall windows, and stop to examine the offerings and their prices. The socks are reasonable - 60 to 80 rubles a pair. Thats $2 or $3 ea. Not bad. Labeled made in Russia, 100% cotton. The electrical shop has batteries and extension cords. I notice some rechargeable batteries. I will have to look aroung to see if I can find a recharger for the batteries.
I saw AA batteries in the grocery store yesterday. The Everyready coppertop alkaline battery two pack is about $4. A price you could find in the US. The Hong Kong made equivalent brand is $1 for the 2-pack. The 4-pack with only Cyrillic writing on the pack is only $1.25. Big difference. I have to presume the Cyrillic offering is one, Russian, and two, alkaline. But, they are AA, and they would work.
I haven't tried the laundry/dry cleaners yet. They are reputed to be expensive. Instead I nabbed a bottle of dish detergent in one of the little grocery/supply stores I've been through, and have washed clothes in the bathtub. It works, but drying is a matter of hanging stuff from every available spot in the bathroom. I can see this morning when I put on a pair of socks that they are wearing out, and will be the worse for the wear they will get here. All the walking I am doing seems to be pretty hard on 'em. That is why I stopped to look at the socks in the window of the stall. I wanted to know what prices socks go for around here, and what kind of product you get.
The markets here are vigorous. There are market stalls all over in the streets, in the walls of the underpasses, carved out of the metro passages. They are open frequently, and many small gorcery stores - and larger ones - are open 24 hours. It seems to me to be more wide-open than even New York. While I am sure that some of this is because this is Moscow - a major European capital, it seems to me that it is locals mostly who use these services and stalls. Tourists are everywhere I have been, but they don't seem to use the stores so much - except perhaps the French. I hear French spoken with regularity, followed by US English. I've seen one party of Japanese, and perhaps a few Chinese and a couple other SE Asian countries represented. Quite a few Germans, (or people who sound German to me!)
Once in the cafe for breakfast I am not sure that Saturday night ever ended. This is a hip and trendy underground cafe. But they had 4 kinds of hot cereal on the menu for breakfast, along with omelets and pancakes. John said they have good breakfasts, so I am checking it out. The atmosphere is bohemian/punk. But it is stylish in a fun sort of way, not the depressed singularity or hyper-snottyism that I would associate with this style in the states. The music is on 24/7 - recorded. It is US stuff, but not like what I've heard at home. Talking jazz, semi-gospel blues. Really fine tunes. Much more original and fresh than anything I hear on the US radio - even KPIG. I haven't the faintest idea who the artists are, but I've been sitting under a speaker for over half an hour, and I've neither gotten bored or annoyed. Now the tune is a Brazilian samba vocal. I know there is a more accurate style name, but no matter. The tunes are fresh, melodic. The talking jazz was an interesting piece - reminiscent of the NY dj, the one who talked those long poetic compositions in the middle of the night, some rapp influence in the vocal patterns, but melodic, not monotonal, nice jazzy light instrumentation to tie it together. I find myself listening to the words a couple of times. Not necessarily something I would buy - or go see, but definitely good music for the radio/background/cafe kind of listening. As I leave there is a tune on that will characterize the feel for most - "Pastime Paradise". Who did that? I forget, but it is the popular version.

Just another night out for dinner

Went out for dinner again tonite. This time it is John and myself. A bit unplanned, we started out to find the Bolshoi ticket booth, which we did. It was closed, however, so we redirected as we still had time and were downtown, not by the office. We had taken the metro downtown, but we walked back, up Tverskaya street. It was a lovely evening, Friday night, in a major city. People out everywhere, on the town. We stop in a trendy upscale Italian cuisine restaurant. The food is excellent and pleasing. I do miss not having water for free - I must pay for mineral water to have water. The traffic is quite busy and Tverskaya is packed with cars. The sidewalk is packed with people - girls, boys, couples, parties, and a few drunks and beggars, but not many.

We stop for a few groceries. I buy some water and yogurt to take back. We stop for ice cream at another cafe just by the office, then head on back to our hotels.