Monthly Archives: March 2013

Pamyatnik

It’s almost midnight on March 24, the weekend of birthdays and parties, and after reading another Russian student’s blog I’m inspired to prioritize – while there is still homework to be done for class tomorrow, what matters more in the end? My pass/fail grade, or my most important thoughts and memories from literally the adventure of a lifetime? Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

So I want to begin with a long and drawn-out tribute that is far too long in coming. I get a little teary-eyed writing this, as I have every time I’ve composed these words on the bus ride home, while bored in class, or in random moments at home with Tatiana: Gramdad would love this place.

There are so many sights, sounds, and happenings that remind me of my late grandfather, Jack Bitter. Every time I visit a certain friends apartment, and see the innovative way her host family has rigged the toilet paper holder, I smile and think how he would do something just like that. When Tatiana’s father, Vladimir Vasilich, comes to visit, I am literally overwhelmed sometimes by the similarities. I’ve mentioned before that he comes over to help fix the pipes or whatever else needs looking at, just like Gramdad always did. And when meeting me, even though he is a man of maybe 80 and not likely to be very open-minded, he slowed down his speech and listened to what I had to say, just like Gramdad did when meeting our Hispanic friend years ago. He was a man out of his time, with the best qualities of back then and now. These people would completely fascinate him, and I know his curiosity would absolutely get the best of him in this strangely efficient yet utterly odd country.

 

And really, this entire trip is a tribute to him. Let’s review.

Why am I here?

-To study Russian.

Why am I studying Russian?

-Because the Air Force is paying me too (also because I love it, but lets stick to the cards)

Why did I choose to join the Air Force?

-Well there you have it.

Long story short, my entire life right now – my major, my career path, everything – is what it is because of this great man. I constantly think of new things that I wish I would have asked him. I would call them regrets, but any time with him I cherished and I just can’t bring myself to say that. I hope every day that I seize the opportunities he would, and follow my curiosity to the end of its path, learning everything there is to learn. Because thinking critically and finding out the truth (or even the truth behind the truth) was something he loved. And I’m sad to say that I don’t think he gets enough credit, from me or anyone else. So I think he deserves this post all to himself.

Rest in peace Gramdad. You are dearly missed.

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On Joining the Red Army… (PS Peter/Moscow coming soon!)

Russians are constantly at war. The people versus the elements is the most evident struggle. The weather here is obviously cold, having been compared by many to Siberia…which is also in Russia. The big cities like Moscow and Petersburg have big buildings and gross amounts of smog and pollution to trap the heat. No such luck out here in Vladimir.

The Russian winter breaks people. No one is safe from it, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m not talking about snow or even blizzards. I’m talking about temperatures near zero or lower (Fahrenheit) everyday, for weeks on end, which by the way is cold enough to freeze any moisture coming out of your nose (congratulations, you’ve been sniffling because IT’S COLD), which is the most pleasant experience ever. Obviously. This occurs approximately two steps outside of your building, and makes for some long mornings.

I have learned to dread the warm spells even more than the cold though. Outside my apartment building and the surrounding complex, the sidewalks are covered for the most part in up to a foot of ice. After enough pavement pounding and some snow to grant traction, parts can be uncovered by men who are hired to go around chipping the ice away. Of course these perfect days only occur a few times a month, leaving odd sections of stair-steps, from the top of the ice layer to actual concrete. That being said, the women here in their six-inch stiletto heels are responsible for using these as ice picks and preventing general mayhem. When the temperature rises to freezing or a little above, all of their hard work is disintegrated by the melting ice, which liquefies just enough to seep into the cracks and uneven surfaces, only to freeze over again the next day. Hell, you understand.

Surprisingly enough, I’ve only fallen once (on the ice, haha) since I’ve been here. It seems to me that Russians have an innate ability to keep their feet under them, though I have managed to catch a few moments of indignity.

This being said, I propose all military units send their trainees to Russia to survive the winter. Good luck.

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