Monday, November 13, 2006

I am leaving Syktyvkar today.

What follows is the speech I have given to my husband's parents what feels like a zillion times in my head, but that I am too afraid of sobbing to tell them out loud, the way I do when I merely think about it:

I am always incredibly self-conscious when I travel. Over time, the more cultures I have experienced, the less and more self-conscious I have become. Less about my appearance, as i have come to realize that my own culture is the most superficial I know, and moreso about being seen as such simply based on my being American. It's sad that I feel this shame, but right now it is well-founded.

Imagine then, how anxious I must have felt to be not simply visiting Russia - a place that during the Cold War, which I and my husband grew up on different sides of, was "the enemy" and my country theirs - but to have married into it as well. To have my in-laws there. In America, there is already an expectancy that your spouse's family will love you or hate you and there is little in between.

However, I am humbled to find that I have should have known all along that I would be accepted here.

There is this thing in Ilya - something warm and loving and caring and giving - that made me love him in the first place. Instantly I saw the same thing present in Dasha and I loved her on sight. It would only make sense that as you made them, you made them the beautiful people that they are. That this light they carry is a gift from you.

I am amazed that having grown up being told that Russians are cold, miserable human beings - though as I grew to think for myself I knew this could not wholly be true - to find that Ilya's family - mama, papa, Dasha, Tania, all - are a structural unit with the kind of loving support system that extends only barely beyond parents and children in my normal world.

As my husband is now calling me Tolstoy because I have gone on so much, let me leave it at this. I am happy and honored and privileged to not only have been embraced and welcomed into your family, but to have spent this time feeling as if I had always been a part of it.

I love you.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

yesterday i felt like i was in a spy movie.

museums in Russia charge a higher admission to foreigners; in the case of the national gallery in Syktyvkar, that is admission is four times as much. however, my quiet manner fooled the staff and they didn't even bother to ask ilya if i was a local. afterward, ilya told me to speak as little english as possible. i kept my mouth shut the whole time - that is what you should do in art museums anyway, right?

of these works, all wholly unfamiliar to me, many were striking and many were dull, but all were new to me. though i could not read their titles, i remember one that i named myself "Still Life with Communisti."

on the way home, i was convinced our bus driver was frank black.

i bought out the souvenir shop - not really, but we managed to spend 1800 rubles... and returned home where ilya's family threw us a party. many toasts and several glasses of wine - the best wine form a box i have ever had, in all seriousness - but still i have not managed to partake of the vodka. what is wrong with me?

i am grateful that i don't know how to read metric scales well enough to be bothered to weigh myself. there's no way i will not have brought back some extra flesh as a souvenir.

here i will attempt to list the things i have eaten in the last 24 hours. note that some, but not even most, of these were consumed in single portions. the rest, as moy moozh's mama would have it, were in numerous doses: tea; bread with meat and cheese; pickles; pickled cherry tomatoes; tea cake; salad of crab, egg, and corn; salad of cabbage, carrots, and corn with mayonnaise; olives galore; salted mushrooms in sour cream (YUM); more meat and cheese; more bread and butter; morse (or nectar of the gods); cranberries in sugar; salmon; golubotsi - meat, peppers, and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves; chicken; mashed potatoes; sauteed mushrooms; lavrik's famous meat salad; cucumbers, tomatoes, and red bell pepper straight from the garden; chocolates; wine, wine, and more wine; pepsi; more tea cake; fruit - oranges, pears, grapes; ice cream; ice cream with raisins; more chai - tea.

that was just the last 24 hours. don't get me started on Alina's borscht or the shainga aunt Tania brought me at theatre.

friday night - late morning for most of my world - i was treated to a traditional dance and music performance. though it was in Russian for this performance, Asya Kria normally perform entirely in Komi, the native tongue of this region. i couldn't understand a word, but much as i imagine opera fans feel, that was completely irrelevant. it was a sight to behold in spite of any language barrier, if for the dancing alone. and the opportunity to bond with ilya's aunt Tania, whom i completely adore.

leaving the theatre, i heard the other American in Syktyvkar at the moment exiting behind me.

today is my last full day with ilya's family. the toasts made at yesterday's celebration, though ilya had to translate them, made a crybaby of me. i wanted most then to speak russian so i could toast his family and return their incredible kindnesses. i cried this morning as i thought of the simplest way to tell my Russian family how humbles and honored i am to be not only accepted by them, but treated as if i was always meant to be here...

my next post will be mushy like this. you have been warned.

Friday, November 10, 2006

071161 - I made my wish and ate my magic ticket. A few moments later, I thought to myself, "Perhaps I should have wished for this bus not to tip over the way we're fishtailing on this ice." Alas, the driver was a seasoned one, and my wish would have been wasted.

I kissed Lenin on the forehead. There is photographic evidence. Dasha says that the CIA might take a special interest in such a picture. I say I have my answer for them ready -
"Oh, I thought it was John."
Nevertheless, you'll find no link to my portrait with Vladdy.

I have yet to have even a drop of vodka. What is that like?

Alina Adolfovna is, as Ilya put it, feeding me to kill me. Better this, I guess, than my mother-in-law actually feeding me to actually kill me... eh?

Night starts to fall here at 3 in the afternoon. My body has held out or Russia to start responding appropriately to such things. Husband says wifey "hibernates like bear."

While the rest of you are starting your day, I watch the sun melt into a blanket of snow.

Maybe I have lost weight. But I probably just feel thinner because here, I am not thought remotely close to fat. I find the only thing to be self-conscious about is being American. And that whole falling on my ass in the street thing.

Trying to read Cyrillic is like deciphering secret code.
A is A. B is V. C is S. N is E, but backwards. For that matter, so is E. P is R and M is M, but 3 is Z. My name starts with X and there isn't a single H in my name. My mama's name - Sherry - it begins with W. The rest might as well be Greek.

You have been reading Xaugu Kpohuku.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

today i found myself naked in above boiling point temperatures being beaten with fir limbs... for pleasure.

and i resisted the utter temptation to run out into the snow in the buff.

it was some beautiful russia i experienced this day.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

the things russia/russians has/have given me thus far (besides the best husband ever):

a warm reception, literally - complete with fur coat - see #4

the knowledge that moscow is a dismal place, in spite of its Ikea

an incredibly caring pair of inlaws (with tons of loving relatives to boot)

the genuine need to wear a fur coat (we cannot decide if its mink or squirrel)

the chance to experience a real winter

an appreciation for the things i have at home; especially the roof over my head

scarves out the wazoo

the best mushrooms ever

the joy of being told in earnest that i am too thin

more tea than in china

a greater fear of the communist party

more to come... my baby just got back