Monthly Archives: February 2013

On How to Feed a Nation

Ever since I arrived here, the most striking difference that I notice every day (other than clothing, language, bathrooms, and everything else) is the food. Food in Russia consists of any and everything imaginable, but mainly centers on bread. I have heard explanations of why the Russians beat the Germans in World War II which completely disregard the climate or general lack of supply lines, and instead says that the Germans lost because they didn’t eat as much bread as the Russians did. That being said, along with the carb-filled meals is copious amounts of bread.

Things that I miss on a daily basis include Mexican (even crappy Midwestern Mexican!) and American pizza. Pizza does exist here, but typically not pepperoni, and never with any tomato sauce, oddly enough… Not only this, but there’s a distinct lack of spicy food. This is because Russians as a whole are an extremely superstitious people and fear any sudden change in taste/temperature/state of being, as it will inevitably make you sick. Luckily for me, Tatiana is actually from Khazakstan originally and thoroughly appreciates spicy food.

As much as I miss America and it’s foodstuffs, I LOVELOVELOVE Russian food. It’s honestly too good to be true, and just appeals to (almost) everything your tastebuds could desire. I just today learned how to make vinigriet, which is a salad of vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beets, and pickles, splashed with vegetable oil). Vinigriet is my favorite example of the perfect drunk/hangover food. The pickles in it make for a good drinking snack, but also a calming effect the next morning. Needless to say, I’ll be making it approximately every day when I get home.

Other fabulous dishes include tvorog, which I am currently obsessed with, as well as the related blinchiki, which are blini (thin crepe-like pancakes) rolled around a spoonful or five of tvorog. Perfect if you were hoping to gain 10 pounds in a week! But seriously, so good.

More to come on daily life and our trip to Peter…



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Terrorism exists.

It is in place because of babushki who promote such a lifestyle.

I’m not actually sure how anything gets done in Russia. Honestly, I think before our dearest prince Putin gets up for his morning judo session at 4 am, he is rudely awakened by his babushka at 2:45 for tea and various waterfowl, accompanied by copious amounts of sweets. Likely with the explanation “You can’t rule the world properly without eating EVERYTHING!”

This post brought to you compliments of my own babushka, who upon hearing that I was heading to the cafe downtown to do homework and Skype my parents, force-feeds me half a rotisserie chicken. I’m not kidding. Her explanation went something like “If you eat more chicken, you’ll fly around downtown like a bird!” But really.

So I just had to tell someone about this.

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Two Posts in One Day?! Mary must’ve forgotten about America again…

Avante-garde art

Avante-garde art

WWII Russian Medal of Excellence

WWII Russian Medal of Excellence

Our Lady of Vladimir

Our Lady of Vladimir

Happy Valentines Day to me!

Happy Valentines Day to me!

So today is again Friday, when I write to you. And let me say what a trying Friday it has been. Not in a bad way, just in an Oh-god-I’m-such-a-foreigner way.

The day started with our excursion in place of class, as does every Friday. Today was the historical museum. Jack refused to go on the grounds that once you’ve seen one provincial Russian villages’ history museum, you’ve seen them all. And he’s right – they take you all the way back to the Paleolithic Era. I’m not kidding. There were mammoth bones.

Not to hate on the history! Which was actually way more interesting than I figured it would be, if only because even though it was general Russian history for the most part, I have yet to experience a museum in Russia before this. So I liked it!

But AFTER the excursion is where the adventure really starts. The four students who actually attended the trip decide to wander the city center and try a new café. Not a problem, as there is an endless supply of them lining the streets and new ones pop up every day. So we stop in to a deserted-looking café. Its empty, is what I notice first of all. Then I notice how clean it is. We decide to order and I drop my bag in a booth before hitting the bathroom. THERE IS TOILET PAPER. This is a monumental moment, seeing as public places don’t often offer this amenity that Americans take for granted. Not only that, but a lock on the door and a toilet seat. Living the dream, I tell you.

Then the best part: free, quality WiFi. We jointly decide that given its close proximity to school, low prices, clean presentation – but mostly the WiFi – this is the new and improved McDonalds, which we will frequent. So with that accomplishment, we’re all feeling pretty good. We decide to hit up the movie theater later, and see what’s playing. The Russian version of Hansel and Gretel (the new one with Jeremy Renner!) was on, so we planned to do that later. Brendan had invited his peer tutor Dasha to come hang out with us, and she invited us to join her at an art exhibit down the street. This turned out to include Shagal, Kandinsky, and Dali pieces, to name a few. Pretty legit for only 100 rubles.

After the exhibit, we leave for my apartment, which is in the same area as the theater. Of course we end up pressed for time and I – not being sure which bus goes to this particular theater as I ride different buses for different purposes, and have passed the theater only on one of them – pick the wrong bus.

So we end up at a building which I thought was a theater. As it turns out, I was right. It is a theater. As well as a café, pharmacy, convention center, and several other things. So we check the movie listing here, for their one theater. Super impressed with myself that I knew the name of the hipster film that started in half an hour – Cloud Atlas.

Now if any of you have seen this movie, you will know that it’s complicated and confusing. And that’s just in English. Having never before seen it, I can tell you that I honestly feel like I’ve been hit by a battering ram. Three hours of intense, deep, and above all dramatic Russian is enough to kill about half of your brain cells.

But that’s not even the best part! This particular theater is not your typical theater – it hosts events/showings that are INVITATION ONLY. Not knowing where to go or what to look for, we asked the lady at the desk where we could buy tickets for the movie. She just shook her head and said something about not needing to buy them, which only confused us more. While debating if we should just stroll in and sit down (like you might do in America) she approaches us again, to make sure we understand. I asked if there were no tickets, then was it a free movie? She sighed and said yes, it’s free. So we checked our coats and continued to the theater. As other moviegoers took their seats we noticed everyone had a piece of paper in their hands, some printed on home printers, some professional-grade ticket paper. We had the sense to play the poor dumb foreigners (and by the time the movie was over, we had certainly been reduced to this) and not show everyone how completely embarrassed we were.

What if I was a cashier in America, faced by three foreign students who don’t understand exactly what’s going on? What would I do? I can’t answer that, but it does make me grateful for the people here who take pity on us and do their best to remember elementary school English.

I noticed the other day while on the bus that though Russians on the whole are not an extremely polite bunch, they have civility and common decency down to a science. What should/needs to be done gets done, maybe not as flowery as other European nations might do or as intensely as Americans might, but its extremely effective. One example of this is a woman in a wheelchair who wanted to ride the bus. She was alone, but about half the men on the bus got off and picked her up – wheelchair and all – to allow her to ride. It was all extremely unceremonious, but everyone seemed satisfied when all was said and done.

This is the first instance I had seen of anyone in a wheelchair here. The babushki here are 70 or 80 years old, and still hopping on and off public transit as if they’re 30, carrying both a mid- to large-sized purse and a pakyet, or random strong plastic bag that you can get to carry groceries from certain stores, and then use it to carry around anything that doesn’t fit in a purse. The men carry them too! This actually makes sense to anyone who has been grocery shopping in Russia, because the charge you for each plastic bag you use. Hence, BYOB – Bring Your Own Bag.

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So this is a whole week late…

So the great thing about Russia is, that every food ever made was made to be hangover food. This country is brilliant. More on that later…

Yesterday our excursion was to the lovely Bogolyubovo, a monastery not far from Vladimir. The churches here are always beautiful, with their onion-dome architecture. What strikes you the most, ALWAYS for me, is the color they use. At Bogolyubovo the church is white limestone, a fact which further endears me to this place by reminding me of my home state.  So of course against a white background, any color looks bright. But I’m not talking about just the churches. I’m talking about the houses, and the apartment buildings. Russians have this odd attraction to the brightest yet not quite attractive aqua blue color. I’ll definitely be posting photos of this particular phenomenon.

Honestly, I really like some of their color combinations. The hunter green with gold trim is beautiful, as well as many of the deeper reds. It’s just this insane blue that assaults your eyes at every corner. It’s so bright it almost looks fake. Even in the center of the city, you feel like you’re walking through a fantasy land, with weird contrasts of Soviet-era apartment buildings and eternal construction. Anyone who lives in the Fishers/Carmel area back home, recall when driving east on 116th, before crossing I-69, you look to the left and see that God-awful yellow building they put up a few years ago? Imagine that, but everywhere. I mean who thinks it’s a good idea to put these colors on places of business, places where people can see them?! It’s utterly absurd.

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The Strange Land is Definitely Stranger than me!

So I was on the bus coming home today, later/earlier than usual, which means I hit rush hour. When I saw bus 25 coming, I only sighed with relief, as it meant getting out of the suddenly intense snow. I noticed the larger than normal amount of people, but I didn’t think anything of it.

Until I got on the bus.

Literally, I was smashed up against the door for 2 stops, until everyone got settled. I paid the conductor by holding my 15 r above some heads in her general direction, and pulled it back when I felt a ticket. THAT CROWDED. The resident directors weren’t kidding about surfing the bus! I didn’t even need to hold on, because there was nowhere to go anyway. This was a hilarious exercise in people watching. But also a wonderful realization of how happy I am to have been placed here in Vladimir. In Petersburg (especially) or Moscow, I would have to worry about pickpockets. Here I hold my bag close and low, and have zero problems.

I also noticed a few more things about Russians in general. Russian women, for one, have a penchant for fake nails. They absolutely CANNOT GET ENOUGH of acrylics. Mainly French manicures are what I see, but the current trend I’m noting is the accent nail (just like in America, typically one or both ring fingers) is painted with extra flowers or designs or even rhinestones. Sometimes this works. Other times it just looks TACKY. Especially when they’re too far grown out. Like woah.

Russian men, on the other hand, are all about 1) the brands (here’s looking at you, Mr. Adidas) or 2) the leather. Mr. Adidas, a fellow passenger on the ride home today, went all the way and used Adidas cologne as well. (I’m not a creeper, its the kind my dad uses!) Go hard or go home I guess! Older guys, 25 and up usually, go for the leather if they can afford it. Also, hats. The small-brimmed cap is such a thing. Not sure what to make of it yet…

Of course, those are just my thoughts. Mainly I’m doing more drinking than anything. Drinking what? you may ask…

I’ll tell you. But only because I know there are programs out there to help people like me.



My name is Mary, and I’ve been in Russia for about a week now. I’ve consumed more than 100 cups of tea.

I don’t even know how it happened. But here I am, making more tea! Let me tell you, its quite the lifestyle. So in case anyone was worried about me – YOU SHOULD BE. 😉


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WELLLLL It’s Been, One Week…

Officially one week since I arrived in the strangest land known to man. I like it, don’t get me wrong, I like it a lot. It’s just odd.

That and the time change. Is there some reason why Russia couldn’t be located any closer to the rest of the world?! I’m constantly lonely, if my host mom is away, and I have a limited number of friends here. Which leaves me whining in front of my computer, exhibit A. I’m just frustrated that I can’t text anyone, nor call anyone, emailing only works so well, and Facebook gets old. I’ve been watching Russian movies in my spare time, so as not to atrophy my skills/understanding without people around me speaking Russian. Last night Tatiana and I watched a classic Russian slapstick comedy, Khavkhazia Plechenia, which I had seen part of before. I actually could understand much of it, but luckily humor of that sort crosses language barriers.

I also recently experienced Globus – the European chain of super-Walmarts. Imagine SuperTarget, only BIGGER. And with a full-service cafeteria. And cross it with a casino. (I’m not even kidding, there are guys in black pin-striped suits everywhere wearing sunglasses and walkie-talkies.) Anyway, its very useful! And fairly cheap also, not to mention close to me.

Not a ton to update anyone about, I’m just bored/lonely. Sleep well, readers 😛

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