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: http://www.greatbaikaltrail.org/.

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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_baikal.

Here's a link to an image of Baikal from space: http://www.irkutsk.org/baikal/space.htm.
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!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Vacation Update and Some News

So, we're here in Odessa on vacation. The city is beautiful and interesting with lots of old buildings and pleasant streets with trees everywhere. The weather is still a bit cold for the beach, but we braved it for a while yesterday. Today we are hanging out a little and then we are catching a night train to Lviv, a city in the far western part of Ukraine that is reportedly very beautiful and not crawling with tourists.

In news, Russia and Estonia continue their spat over a monument to Red Army soldiers. The Russians seem to feel that the monument is in memory of those who died fighting the Nazis, but Estonians see it as a reminder of their occupation by the Soviets both after the 1938 Nazi-Soviet Pact and again after the Germans were driven from Estonia by the Red Army.

BBC has the details

Moscow Times Commentary