Friday, December 07, 2007


So the Russian Duma elections went off last Sunday and SURPRISE! pro Putin parties won.

Wow, what a shocker.

The real quiz is what will happen with the Russian presidency in the Spring, when Putin is constitutionally compelled to give up his seat in the Kremlin, but doesn't seem ready to give up his power and seat at the decision-making table.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Free Rice... eat! Not for me, for hungry people in places that need it. All you have to do is answer correctly SAT style vocab questions - and maybe buy something from one of the advertisers.

Check it out: Free

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving is Almost Here

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone as this most American of holidays rolls around soon. I'm excited to be visiting my big sis in New York City, and that Mom and Dad are driving in from Indiana too. It's going to be Thanksgiving with a twist!

It's hard to believe that a year ago we were preparing for the madness that was our American home teacher collective bid to make Thanksgiving dinner. It turned out pretty well in the end, but most of all I remember being totally exhausted by the time is was over. To all of out there who do it every year, every holiday! Here's to you, preparers of Turkey Day feasts!

In the news, Russian Duma elections are looming closer. The old Duma has adjourned and the current squabble is with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who typically sends election observers. "Not so fast!" the Russian government says. "We're not going to give you visas yet!"

Oh, how things always stay interesting!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Another Killer Fact...Actually a Hypothesis...

...brought to you by my history studies at UNC Chapel Hill.

The other day we were discussion the last years of Josef Stalin's life and his relationship with those around him: largely sycophants and lightweights that Stalin found easy to manipulate.

However, like most things, it's not that easy. Stalin died in March 1953, apparently of a brain hemorrhage, despite relatively good health for a man of his age. While death by natural causes is largely accepted as the true reason for his death, there is a small but significant amount of evidence that someone from amongst his inner circle did him in in order to avoid a gathering purge of the leadership at Stalin's bidding.

It's not hard to imagine. These were men who had seen and taken part in the havoc that Stalin wrought on others, secret police chief Beriia was himself the chief agent of some of the purges. If they felt threatened, it's not hard to imagine the man who controlled Stalin's residences and body guards taking a page from Stalin's own playbook.

I guess it just goes to show you that being an evil dictator has its occupational hazards too!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

November Already!

It's hard to believe that October has come and gone already. It's still very much fall here in NC. Heck, the trees have just barely started to change on campus. It's going to be a beautiful month - made all the better by a big helping of turkey at the end.

On Russian matters, there's about a month left until Russia holds parliamentary elections. There's little doubt which party will win, but nonetheless there is still bickering over allowing foreign observers in for pre-election observation.

On a more personal level, I'm going to be continuing to study Russian in the spring and I hope to have an opportunity to spend six weeks or so in St. Petersburg this summer. It should be fun!

Now for a killer fact update!

Moscow: it's big, but you already knew that. In terms of population, it's got a little over 13 million people. If you toss in likelihood of 1-1.5 million people who live or work there undocumented, it comes out to fully 1/10th of Russia's population. Comparing to the US, it's as if you rolled NYC, LA, and Washington DC all into one and, if it had the same percentage of the country's population, would have about 30 million people!

As it relates to what I've been studying lately, Moscow was one of three main Nazi targets (along with St. Petersburg/Leningrad and the resource-rich lands of the south and Caucasus) when they invaded in June 1941. They reached the outskirts of Moscow, with the closest advances of the Wehrmacht reaching within 40 km of the Kremlin.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Climate Killer Facts

Since it is fall these days and winter is soon approaching (for some sooner than others) I thought some climate killer facts about Siberia, the region Molly and I visited this summer, are in order.

Two things:
(1) Siberia is home to the place with coldest recorded tempurture, almost -100°F. According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know - I'm taking their workd for it) in January 1926 a temperature of -71.2 °C, or -96.1 F, was recorded at Oymyakon, Sakha Republic.

(2)Farther south, where the Trans-Siberian Railway runs, the climate is much warmer, reaching comfortable temperatures and summers long enough for agriculture. Despite this, the mean annual temperature is still 0°C, 32°F.

The moral, even though it's not a snowy frozen waste year round (I have pictures to prove it) it's still really, really extreme!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Websites of World Significance

Nope, I'm not talking Google. (Although we all know it really runs the
world.) I was thinking of the White House and it's website

That got me thinking: "I wonder what Putin's website looks like?" Well, here
it is: (Thanks

If you want to know a little more about the
physical Kremlin, try this one: History of the Kremlin and
other stuff

Here's a Killer Fact: The Kremlin was a symbol of power in Russia even during the two hundred year hiatus during which the Tsars (and ruling Tsarinas) lived in Petersburg. They continued to be crowned in the Uspensky Sobor'(Assumption Cathedral) and to lavish money and talent to update the architecture of the palaces and government buildings within the red brick walls.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Putin's Next Move

Putin's Next Move

I'm waiting a while before I'll try to say what this means, but the picture is starting to clear up. It seems that Putin wants to have all of his ducks in row long before it comes to elections. It's not as if United Russia needs his help, but this begins to cement his position for the Post-Putin-Presidency Era. (PPP, if you will.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

September's Almost Gone

It's hard to believe that September has almost come and gone. School is
going well, but there is lots to do! Reading, writing, researching,
learning Russian are all part of the game. The biggest part of what I'm
learning is historiography, the history of the study of history! As
Molly said, "It's so meta!"

As for Russia, it's still in the news. The latest shakeup is near the top, when Putin axed his PM and replaced him with a surprise, obscure candidate. My first thought upon
hearing that Fradkov was out was that Putin had decided to make his successor choice obvious early by picking one of the two main rivals, Medvedev or Ivanov. Instead we get Zubkov, a bureaucrat and manager from way back in the pack.

Only time will tell what this means for Russia.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Finally, an Update from the States!

Finally, as promised, an update from Stateside. After several days of train travel and a stop to visit the Siberian cities of Novosibirsk and Tomsk, Molly and I reached Vladimir. We had twelve hours to say some final goodbyes, repack our things, and gather the stuff we had left behind in a closet at the American Home. (Also: to eat good pizza!)

A middle-of-the-night drive to Sheremetevo and a couple of hours of waiting found Molly and I on separate flights to separate cities in Germany and then to the States. Suffice it to say, we made it safely, but we were exhausted. I've never been so exhausted in my life! As bad as this picture looks, I felt worse!

A whirlwind couple of days in New York City with my sister was followed by a few more days with my parents at home in Indiana. Finally, I arrived here in Chapel Hill, NC last Thursday. I begin my graduate career tomorrow, on the first day of class here at UNC. I'm excited about the chance to take three history seminars and a Russian class at neighboring Duke in Durham, a few miles' bus ride down the road.

Since I'm no longer in Russia, the best I can do is find news and talk a little about what I'm learning. The first installment is about something many take for granted that can never be assumed in Russia: hot water.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Long-Delayed Update

It's been at least three weeks sense I've had a chance to write anything. Two of those weeks we spent living in a tent in a forest on a hill near Lake Baikal. The other week we've been traveling around in the area and enjoying the beautiful area. This is a place very rich and beautiful in nature, if not always in other ways. I will try to write more and show what I mean with pictures when I get back to the States next week and have more consistent Internet access. Between now and then, we are beginning the long journey home with the first leg of our train trip from Irkutsk tomorrow even1ing. Then end will be a week from today when we fly from Moscow to our respective destinations and families. I'm having a great time and it's been a wonderful experience, but I can also honestly say I'm ready to come home!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

To Irkutsk...and Beyond!

Irkutsk at last, vacation at last. After a long train ride (we thought of it as a four-night, three-day tea party, bed included) we reached Irkutsk on Monday morning. The first impression I had is of course that Siberia is huge. You can just sit and watch the landscape roll by. The other odd thing about the train is that it stays on Moscow time no matter where you are. I knew this on an intellectual level, but it wasn't driven home until we were on the train and the sun came up three or four hours earlier than it should have.

As for Irkutsk, its a pretty cool city. There are lots of old buildings in the center of the city where are hostel is. That said, it's also clearly a Soviet-Russian city with its industry and fair share of ugly buildings. There's also a lot of influence from East Asia, with Asian cars, products, and people everywhere.

We're leaving tomorrow morning to begin two weeks of camping and working near Lake Baikal. We're going to be near a small village called Tankhoi. It might be a while before I get to post again.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Last Vladimir Post

It's hard to imagine that almost a year has passed, but today is my last day of living in Vladimir. Tonight, Molly and I are catching a train to begin our month in Siberia before we return to the States. Since I wrote last my birthday passed; my parents, sister and family friend visited Moscow, Vladimir, and Petersburg and have safely returned home; and I have packed stuff and said goodbye to people for about three days straight Not surprisingly, they really enjoyed Petersburg and I think they now have a better idea of why I am so interested in Russia. (Even if they think me a little crazy still.)

I will try to update a time or two from Siberia, but I'm not sure when or where I'll be able to use the Internet. After three days in Irkutsk, we are embarking on a two week camping trip near Lake Baikal. As you can imagine, no Internet.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Thursday Picnic

Yesterday was the last Thursday of the semester. Because we don't have lots to do in the summer on Thursdays, the Russians teamed up to make a picnic in the backyard. We exchanged a few gifts, sang some songs, and ate some good food. (As you can tell from the picture, even Gosha got fed well!) Also, despite a Russian tradition against celebrating birthdays early, we celebrated my birthday, which is actually tomorrow. I got a cool LED flashlight and Molly baked a delicious cake! It's getting hard to believe that the year is almost at an end. Even though I'm very excited to travel and then begin school, it's also hard to leave behind friends and familiar places.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


This picture needs no explanation at all.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Blinni and a(nother) Russian Institution

Yesterday was a Saturday afternoon. We spent it, as we usually do when the weather is overcast and a little cool, at the American Home. It was a little unique because we began pulling our personal things out of our little cubbie-holes and storage spaces, only to be confronted with the fact that we either have to cart home to the States or get rid of a lot of STUFF! It's going to be interesting.

We also made a nice dinner which included Russian blinni (Thanks for cooking blinni, Molly!) and followed it up with another Russian favorite, some Cheburashka cartoons. Cheburashka is a little creature of unknown origin who cutely popped out of an orage crate and makes an appearence in four short stop-motion animation films from the Soviet '70s. He's cute; befriends an easy-going crocodile names Gena; is sometimes foiled by the quasi-evil, but strangely grandmotherly, Shapaklyak; and learns many life lessons. It's cute, and despite the fact that there is barely an hour of existing films, he is wildly popular over 30 years after his creation. (If you look closely at Olympic footage, you'll see him as a sort of mascot for Russian teams in both of the last two Olympiads.) You can read more about him here: Wikipedia, giver of knowledge.

This is also the source of one of may favorite sentences in the Russian language, which goes like this: Жил в городе крокодил. Его зовут Гена. Он работал в зоопарке крокодилом. (There lived in the city a crocodile. His name is Gena. He worked at the zoo as a crocodile.)

So, with that our semester is winding down. My parents and sister are in London now and will be here on Saturday to visit, which is still hard to believe. These next two weeks are going to be crazy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I'm Scary!

I'm scary. Didn't you know? I scare teenage girls! I yell at adults! I'm just SCARY!

Well, actually I don't think I'm that bad. I'd like to think of myself as a nice guy. But, then there are these little vignettes:

I. The other day we had new prospective students to test them for their level of English. Part of this is an oral interview with one of the Americans. I do this pretty often and invariable I get a 13-14 year old, usually girl, who is scared to death of this big American boy who speaks English at them. (I'm also told that I speak "very quickly," but since I'm from Indiana we all know that that ain't true!) Last week, a 13-14 year old girl didn't say a word:

Me: "My name is Aaron. How are you?" Her: Nothing.
Me: "Where do you go to school?" Her: Nothing.
Me: "What are you doing right now?" Her: You guessed it, nothing.
Me, in Russian: "That's fine. Do you have any questions you'd like to ask?" Her: Nothing.
Me: "Okay, it was nice talking to you."

II. I don't like it when people use cell phones and/or cheat on exams. Those students who do this, and persist in it, I tell them how I feel. I guess this makes me scary ;)

III. One of Molly's students used the Russian word "gul" to describe me and my voice. It means "echo" or "reverberation." When Molly asked her if I was scary, she replied: "You can't say he's scary, but on the other hand, you can't say that he's not."

There you have it: You can't say that I'm not.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Flowers of June

Last weekend when we went to Sergeev Posad, one of the things I had plenty of chance to take pictures of were flowers. Everything was in full bloom and beautiful. My pictures were helped by the fact the it was clear and sunny, without a cloub in the sky. In short a perfect day to snap some pictures.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sunday Day-trip

I had forgotten how nice it is to be able to drive places on your own schedule! After months of public transportation we took a little trip to Sergeev Posad, by car! Natasha who works here at the AH, Joanna, Eric, Molly and I joined some of our students and friends, Larissa, Marina, her son, and a co-worker of Marina’s on a road trip. Sergeev Posad is a small town northeast of Moscow that is home to one of the most famous and beautiful monasteries in Russia, The Trinity-Sergius Monastary. We were there on Sunday during mass which was very interesting. As you can see, I took tons of pictures.

After thoroughly checking out the monastery, we drove a few miles to Abramtsevo. It is a small estate that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was owned by a wealthy Moscow industrialist who invited artists like Repin and Vasnetsov to the estate, a sort of artists’ colony. In addition to pleasant woods, a beautiful stone church, and some pretty wooded buildings, there are museums and workshops for things like painting, woodworking, and ceramics. We spent some time wandering the grounds and, you guessed it, taking more pictures.

After Abramtsevo we drove a short while and stopped for a picnic lunch and some relaxation. On the way home, we went via the little town of Radonezh. It’s a small town with a church and a spring that is famously connected to St. Sergei of Radonezh, who was the founder of the monastery in Sergeev Posad. It’s a very pretty place and we took the chance to have a dip in the spring-fed stream and drink some of the water from the spring that is believed to have cleansing powers.

In all, it was a relaxing, beautiful day that I think we all really enjoyed. I know that I'm enjoying summer, but the time is going very fast. We have barely three weeks left to teach! Yikes!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Family is Coming, The Family is Coming!

As I was informed in a comment, I neglected to mention that my family is also coming to visit me in Russia at the end of the month.

After a whirlwind tour of London and Paris, Mom; Dad; my sister, and a family friend are coming to Russia! They'll be in Moscow for a few days, then to Vladimir for a short stay and then on to St. Petersburg as the last stop on the voyage.

I'm really excited that they are coming: now they can maybe understand why I've come to Russia twice! I'm going to try and be the best tour guide/interpreter that I can be, but unfortunately they're arriving right at the end of our summer semester here at the AH, which is always a crazy time.

As for that, we had midterm exams for the summer semester yesterday, so today will mostly be spent hanging out and grading them. So far they seem to be doing okay. They need to be graded today because tomorrow we're teaming up with some students and taking a trip to Sergeev Posad, which is a town famous for its monastaries and beautiful churches. I think that we're going to take a picnic lunch and make a day out of it. It will be a long day, but with the cooler weather that we're having, it should be very enjoyable.

The last part of this post is a little picture I took a while back. Can anyone figure out what it is?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

School Update

School is going well and very quickly. The summer session is intensive. Instead of twice a week for 3 hours total for 15 weeks, the summer is 3 times a week for almost 7 hours, but only for about 6 weeks. It's the same number of hours over the semester, but two 2hour 15 minute classes in a night are pretty exhausting.

Midterm exams are this week and then we'll have class until June 27, the final day. (We do have one short vacation of one day for Russian Constitution Day or whatever.)

All in all, while I'm going to miss lots about Vladimir (host-babushka, co-workers, etc) I'm really excited to travel to Siberia and also to begin school in the fall. August 21st will be here before I know it and I feel like a little kid getting ready to go to kindergarten for the first time!

Speaking of Siberia and Baikal, we got accepted into the program and so we know where we will be working: Great Baikal Trail Project Our project is called "The Jungles of Kamar-Daban," sounds pretty awesome to me!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday Politics...

Commentary from The NYT on the state of Russian justice and its hopeless entanglement in the political system. The quote below seems to be the most pertinent to the situation that arose this week when authorities in Great Britain began seeking the extradition of a former KGB officer in the poisoning of Litvinenko.

The cynicism has been a hallmark of Mr. Putin’s presidency, allowing him to consolidate power by using the law to weaken the media, marginalize opposition parties and imprison political enemies. It is now being used to paint Britain as wielding its judicial system in Mr. Litvinenko’s murder in the same way Russia often wields its own — manipulating the law for political ends.

Who knows what will happen next. The more I read about, it the less I understand.

Friday, May 25, 2007


A little a bit of news from Russia: First more mine disaster from the same region where a different mine exploded two months ago killing dozens.

Mine Blast Kills 38

Also, Putin has been in Europe for the last few days, especially talking about the Russian economy and the Russia's growing wealth.

Putin Touts Economiuc Strength

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Post Number Two of the Day...

...but I couldn't resist. Here's a pretty hilarious article from 2001 from The Onion archives. (Thanks to Molly for finding it!)

Russia Aquires Amway Distributorship

Also, in other news the Brits are charging a Russian in last fall's poisoning/murder of ex KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko. Is anyone surprised?

Read All About It!

Some Politics

So the recent EU-Russia summit in Samara went off not-so-well. First there was the planned protest that didn't get off the groud and then there was the fact that there was little agreement between the two parties on...anything. Issues like the Russians' tiff with Estonia and the disagreement between Poland and Russia over Polish meat exports do little to improve things. On the other hand, as the article below notes, European and German dependence on Russia for energy supplies make this relationship vital, if no less contentious.

EU-Russia Relations in the NYT

The other thing that looms is the fact that by this time next year we should know who Putin's successor will be. That said, the picture is far from clear. There are some candidates (unofficial, of course,) but I have a feeling that Putin will pull a rabbit out of the hat, much the same way that Yeltsin did when he plucked Putin from relative obscurity to Prime Minister and then hand-chosen successor.

Some Commentary on the state of political Russia from The Moscow Times

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Last Thursday evening brought one of those pleasant summer rainstorms that blankets the flowers with water drops and forms puddles everywhere. (Don't lie and say you didn't like jumping in them when you were a kid.)

We took a few pictures and these are the results. They are a little dark due to the low light, but I didn't want to spoil them with Photoshop, so here they are.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lake Baikal Adventure

Call me crazy, but at least hear me out. This July, Molly and I are going to pay money to work hard. But it will be completely worth it because we will be working on the shores of one of the most unique places on the planet. Most people have never heard of it, but it's amazing.

Lake Baikal is the found in Siberia, some five time-zones from Moscow and European Russia. It contains 20% of the world's fresh surface water. Yes, that's right: 1/5th. That's because it's a big lake coupled with the fact that it is over 1600 meters deep.

More than that, it is home to thousands of cool endemic species of plant, animal, fish, etc. Included it the plethora of flora and fauna is the Nerpa seal, the world's only freshwater seal.

Unlike most parts of the environment in Russia, Baikal is in comparatively good shape. It has its problems, but overall is cleaner and better cared for than almost anywhere else in this vast country.

So, you ask, what are we going to do there? The answer is: build trails. Here's the website for the program:

Their goal is to build a network of trails that ring the lake and make it more accessable to people who will enjoy the natural wonders that the lake and it's surrounding areas, which include several national parks open to all.

Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on Baikal:

Here's a link to an image of Baikal from space:
If you want more about it...Google it!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Day and Night

I have a quick, not to deep observation about life in Russia. The days are getting much longer.

The last two mornings I have awoken to find it broad daylight outside. Sleepily rolling over, I see that my alarmclock tells me it is 5:30 and I can sleep another several hours. On the other end, in the evening it the sets and it begins to get dark around 10:00, and that with over a month to go before the solstace. I can prove it: I took this picture last night just before 10 pm.

Nature is cool that way. We are finally making up for all those days when it was dark when class began at 4:00 pm.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

End of Class and Good-Byes

Now that I've shared a little about our vacation, I thought I should post a couple of pictures of the last days of class. For the most part, the end of semester was great. Most of my students did very well and we had a fun last day just hanging out and talking. I also got some great gifts from them. (Thanks guys!)

I also have a couple of pictures of other activities from that last crazed week of April:

These pictures are from a last dinner that we fixed for Nicole on her last night here in Vladimir. We had a good time and we miss her already!

Also necessary, is this picture of Gosha, who stalks the American Home yard, but never seams to catch anything or do a good job of defending the territory.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Vacation: With Pictures!

This is going to be a bit of a long post, but I wanted to let everyone know how our vacation to Ukraine went. In a word: great!

Molly and I left Vladimir on Sunday and got to Odessa late on Monday after a long train ride. Odessa is a beautiful city in May. Temperatures were warm, but not so warm that we could really enjoy the beach too much. Spring was in full bloom with many big beautiful trees lining the streets of the old part of town and flowers everywhere: flowers in beds, flowers in pots, flowers on restaurants,
flowers in the hostel where we stayed.

We visited a few restaurants and went biking on rented bikes in a park.The hostel where we stayed was cool and we met some interesting people. It was also nice because, even though it is in Ukraine, most people in Odessa speak Russian.

After a couple of days and nights in Odessa, we took a night train to L'viv, the major city of western Ukraine. We arrived early in the morning and made our way to the center of town where we had arranged to rent an apartment for a few days. We found that the apartment was in the very center of the city, in a buiding that faces the medieval town hall.

We did some walking around, following the guide book to some of the touristy spots: churches and such. We found a square with a book market and bought some old Russian books for very cheap. We also spent time visiting restaurants, cafes, and so on. We bargained (not really, because we don't speak Ukrainian) with street vendors to buy fruits and vegetables for the meals we cooked ourselves and so on. One of the cafes had a cool wall full of old coffee mills. As many of you know, I'm a hopeless addict: while it was European style coffee and not the American style bucket of java I like, it was still great!

Ukrainian is pervasive in the city and that part of Ukriane has a reputation for having strong pro-Ukrainian feeling. We were able to get buy with our "Pleases" and "Thank yous" in Ukrainian, often understanding with difficulty onlythose parts of what people said that was similar to Russian. Many people, including Russians, don't think of Ukrainian as a separate language, but it is!

Finally, on the Saturday and Sunday that we were there, the city was celebrating a festival "City Day" complete with banners, singing, dancing, food, and street performers, like these guys and gals, who were doing sword fighting demonstrations outside our door in the town square! Also prominent in the town square, these lion statues: they appear to be kissing...perhaps connected with the town's name: lev=lion.

Lviv/L'vov/Lwow...however it's spelled in Latin letters!) is a cool city, it's only drawback being that it closes down early, which was cool with us: we took the evenings to relax in our apartment and rest. Having seen some of what the city had to offer, we headed on a night train to Kiev and the way home. We arrived Tuesday morning in Kiev, spent the day in the city seeing a little slice of it and spending our last few hryvna and then took another train for Moscow that night, arriving back home in Vladimir in the late afternoon on Wednesday.

In Kiev, we saw several cool things, including the ancient Kiev-Caves Monastery, where monks dug caves to live in and then were buried in their caves. You can see a tiny part of it as well as the churches and buildings that they took the time to build above ground. We also checked out a few slices of the rapidly modernizing city that is Kiev. One of my favorite spots in the city was the Adreevsky uzviz, a steep winding street lined with artists and people peddling souvenirs, paintings, and other art (it might be a bit strong to call it all "art," but nonetheless, it's a charming spot.)

All in all an amazing trip. We spent about ten days traveling to places we'd never been (with the exception of Molly's trip to Kiev), seeing new things, hearing new languages, and so on. I think I've caught the "I-want-to-learn-Ukranian disease" It's a lot like Russian, with elements of the little Czech that I know thrown in. There's no help for me now. Once I start learning a third Slavic language, it would all be over!