May 30

Tomorrow the music begins – S and I are going to see Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Bolshoi. And we had a good time this afternoon sitting around at a cafe griping about the Met (S lives in New Jersey). I know, complain complain complain, but sometimes it’s fun to get a good gripe in.

We are staying with an extremely temperamental friend of hers, an individual named Derek (he’s a PhD student in Slavic Studies) who is the sort that will hand over the keys to his very nice shared flat in Arbat and offer to give a tour of the city – but when asked what he might have in mind for said tour will lose his temper and say forget it and what do we want from him, and when he is in this state he’s best left alone. S says he is a very nice person but a little high strung.

And it’s sort of grad school redux around here in a more general way. The two other flatmates (one is American, the other Russian) are both students, and the American one is frantically attempting to finish a master’s thesis by either today or tomorrow. So he has that hollow kind of panicked look that people sometimes get at that stage. Whenever I meet graduate students, I am always very glad that that part of my life is over. I mean, it was fun, and I actually did like being a student even though I suspect I do not take the profession as seriously as some of my colleagues, but I am glad to have the degree. Rattling around in foreign cities for months on end is part of the process if you’re doing archival work, and it’s often an enormous amount of fun, but it’s one of those processes that can also be both extremely lonely and extremely stressful.

The stresses of student life may be behind the several ashtrays on the kitchen table here and the little pile of empty cookie packets nearby. (Or, alternately, the ashtrays may just be a fixture – people smoke a lot here. It’s been a while since I have been in a cafe where not only are there ashtrays on the tables, but if there isn’t one, someone turns up, unasked, to provide one. Russia is probably a regretful ex-smoker’s paradise: all that second hand smoke, which means you can inhale as much as you like with no guilt, because you really can’t help it.)

4 thoughts on “May 30

  1. and you will make it to the red square where history took place (i grew up a commu 🙂 ) as well as the famous horse on 1 leg? am told it’s a monumental achievement: all the weight of the horse (and some general on it) has to be ballanced exactly on a single point!

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    1. We went to Red Square this morning – with two historians, we would feel as if we’d failed if we missed the historical stuff. When you went, did you see Lenin in his tomb – and if you did, what did you think? It was one of the strangest experiences I have had here yet. A combination of the building and how it looks, and the lighting, and the man himself in the little box. It was odd.

      I will keep an eye out during my travels for the horse statue!

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      1. oh, i was wrong, it’s sitting on 2 legs, not 1 :-), but still a monumental task i heard, and just googled again, it’s in st petersburg. looking forward to see photos of your trip!
        meanwhile, no, i didn’t go in, just stayed on the outside and snap pix of the gigantic word Ленин , the guards all seemed quite serious… (but in did visit Hochiminh’s mausoleum once, a very odd experience too, both inside and out.)

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        1. The guards do seem very serious – in general, I have no intention of ever interacting with the cops/guards/other law-enforcement here if I can avoid it. They’re quite intimidating. I was actually a little nervous even to take pictures of the Bolshoi the other night because there were so many police there (for reasons I don’t know) – but of couse nothing happened.

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