Thursday, November 16, 2006


You know, at times I'm a little ambivalent about teaching. At the beginning of the week, I was still thinking about the weekend. I walked into my first class Monday evening to find this...sometimes my students really know how to make me smile :)

Thursday, November 09, 2006


So I'm struggling a little. I was hiding it, but it's time to share. I miss the U S of A. I was also ecstatic to "open" the New York Times this morning and see that Secretary Rumsfeld has resigned, and Congress has changed. The question now is what the future will bring.

We've just finished a short holiday. While I'd planned to go traveling, I stayed here to work on a paper for school. Halfway through I became quite envious of everyone in Moscow and Petersburg. Sunday night, my sister messaged me (much cheaper than calling).

"Why must 'going out' consist only of getting obscenely drunk in the hotel lobby?"
"It's just a phase...they'll grow out of it."
"I'm in Moscow and no one wants to go out...they just want to sit here and drink. I'm coming to see you tomorrow. Make time for me. What tangible items do you miss?"

I said I missed San Francisco and my hairdresser (she was fabulous and I really need a haircut).

Around lunchtime, we met at "our cafe" (Cafe Montana - don't know how it got its name). They have the best hot chocolate (garachi shocolade) in the world. Russian hot chocolate tastes like warm brownie batter. AND they're friendly (no one is friendly in Russia. The customer is always wrong). Continuing with the food obession theme, we walked to the American Home for a special lunch. Commenting wryly on my choice of "San Francisco" as the tangible item I missed, my sister informed me that she'd brought North Beach to Vladimir. Out came a bottle of Italian wine, some olives, French cheese, a baguette and (wonders) assorted Italian meat, including salami and proschiutto. In contrast to Russian black bread, meat ravioli with funny bits you can't chew in it, and cheese with a weird aftertaste.

We didn't do anything dramatic, just spent some time together eating and talking, and watching part of "Dead Poets Society". Later that night, I threw in the CD of saxophone music a friend had bought at the Hayes St Jazz Festival, lit a candle, pulled out my Fleximap of San Francisco and looked at every spot on it I'd ever walked or visited.

Yep, I've got it bad.

Today, I'm teaching a lesson about culture shock. According to our text, culture shock is a process whose 4 steps look like an AA agenda:
1) the tourist stage - you will have a positive attitude. Everything will feel new and exciting!
2) the emptiness stage - after only a few weeks, you will have settled into your daily routine. The original excitement you felt will have disappeared. Everything will seem so different, confusing and disappointing!
3) the acceptance stage - at this point, you will have accepted the cultural differences of the new country. Unfortunately, this is sometimes the point when you are about to move back home!
4) the recovery stage - by this time, you will have been living in your new home for several months. You will start to feel more relaxed.

Monday, November 06, 2006


The doorbell rang. She stood, authoritatively, at the top of the steps leading to my apartment. "I'm here for Nicole". I fumbled for my house keys, threw a hat on my head, hoped my socks were thick enough and off we went.

"Nekol, speak Russian. You are the English teacher; I am the Russian teacher."
"But I can't speak Russian."
"I speak English in class. You speak Russian with me."
"Your English is like this", I protest feebly in Russian, holding my hand above my head - "my Russian is like this", holding my hand below my knee.
"Nekol, speak Russian".

It's not a request.

She's really enjoying this. She had to retake her midterm exam. A motivated student, she's missed a few classes, but the strength and vibrancy of her personality is in no way lessened by her imperfect grammar on my test, an arbitrary attempt to measure her "skill" and "learning progress" in this one subject area where I am somehow qualified to provide instruction.

"I don't know how to skate."
"In Russian, please."

I step onto the ice, shakily.
"Are you scared?".

Oooo she knows how to push my buttons.

She's tall and lean and naturally graceful. She grabs my left hand and drags me across the ice as I sway back and forth, yell, and search desperately for some element of form resembling her smooth, effortless motions across the ice.

Some 6 year olds skate by, turning circles and going backwards. A few drunk, roughhousing young men follow soon after. I try not to fall or get hit. I stare obssessively at my feet, trying to make them move like the other feet on the rink.

Eventually, I stop looking at my feet and start looking at the ice. I move in jerky circles around the middle, where the slower skaters are. Every so often, she stops to check on me, grabbing my hand and pulling me off for some "adult circles" around the loop, which means we move must faster than where my comfort zone is.

She's 15 or 16 years old, maybe.

I watch the lights and the music and think that I'd be more at home in a dance club. I grit my teeth and try to forget that I'm wearing skates two sizes too small since that's all they had.

When they stop to clean the ice, we decide to go home. We walk through the park to a bus stop as she puffs on her cigarette. She used to live near this park, and would run around in it when she was a little girl. She still likes to come here with her grandparents for the New Year, where they have a great celebration. I promise that if I stay in Vladimir for New Years, I will come to the park with her. We are speaking in Russian. She corrects my small words for me.

We get on the bus and leave Penguin, the skating rink. My feet hurt, but I had fun.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

First Snow

Quietly and unexpectedly, it crept in while we were sleeping. Yesterday I opened the window to find several white inches on the ground. I was so excited I walked all the way to school so I could look at it. There is a special silence that comes with new snow, and it's beautiful and magic before anyone walks on it or makes it dirty.

Happy Halloween

Belatedly. We threw a grand party for our students last Saturday, with an earlier one for the kids and a later one for the adults. Between the costume contest, haunted house, limbo competition, pumpkin carving, murder mystery, dancing, and bobbing for apples, it was quite a hit. My proudest moment was when my youngest and most enthusiastic student won the costume contest for being Harry Potter (only he didn't dress any differently than he usually does!). Here I am with some of my students.