Archive for June, 2012

June 26, 2012


I think I have determined that I really just like the idea of camping, more so than actual camping. For which, by the way, no one here can seem to provide us a confirmed translation. So before a lovely trip to St. Petersburg, Andy and I went ‘na pohode’, ‘kemping’, and/or (who knows) ‘na peek-neek’ with some of Andy’s co-workers and their friends…

“Na pohode”

“Na pohode” really means more like hiking, which we did none of, therefore we can’t really call it that. Instead we sat around and alternated between eating, drinking, escaping the rain, playing charades, getting yelled at for speaking to each other in English, bartering with the neighboring campers for fish while they tried to amaze us with magic card tricks, playing Trivial Pursuit (yes, Mama and Papa, in Russian), spraying ourselves with most likely toxic amounts of bug spray, playing Twister, and picking caterpillars off of everything.

I also irrationally sulked about not having s’mores. But for this I will blame the blog (and not entirely on my husband who just didn’t have the vision in the store where I found Russian marshmallows and somehow convinced me out of buying them). How AMAZING of a blog post could have been written about introducing s’mores to people who don’t know what they are (yes, those people exist), in a foreign country, on a wacky camping trip, using Russian marshmallows, chocolate and whatever graham cracker substitute I’d have to find. This is what happens when you start blogging. Everything is constructed into a future blog post.

“Kemping” (that’s camping in a Russian accent)

“Kemping” is not considered a word by all Russians (even though we saw it in the store by the tents) so we can’t really use that either.

Whenever I go camping (or outside in Jersey in the evening) I am always eaten alive by mosquitos. I was kind of hoping since some random Muscovites I encounter don’t seem to want to acknowledge my presence that, while kemping, Muscovian mosquitos would act the same. No such luck.

Camping in America is usually restricted to special authorized areas. In Russia you can pretty much put a tent anywhere. Even, like in our case, in a field behind a sign that marks the territory as forbidden for people. I wish I could have seen mine and Andrei’s faces as we passed that sign, already after dark, on a road with deep puddles for booby traps.

The friends of our friends had made it already, so after a several hour detour that the GPS took us on, we called for directions. Andrei and I still don’t know how our friends found the place when both parties said things like this: “After you reach the dirt road there will be a pile of rocks and a butterfly sitting on a flower, take a left and then make a right at the ladybug” or “There is a field to our right and to our left, and a tree…which way do we go?” The first group to make it could remember a chunk of wood on the ground, but not deathly puddles and a No Trespassing sign.

The car after the road of puddles was another story. But despite the fact that the bumper would probably break off at the next dragonfly to whiz by (where we had to make another left, by the way), I knew it would be ok. Men here can fix broken engines with bubblegum and bottle caps.

“Na peek-neek”

“Na peek-neek” suggests a one day leisurely picnic somewhere without sleeping overnight in a tent. But we slept in a tent (for THREE nights) and didn’t have a toilet or a shower. In our tent we sat and slept through two very scary rainstorms and in another tent a couple’s cat peed twice on their blankets. During our meals bugs took baths in and had parties on all of our food. In the back of my mind were my mother’s words “…aaaaand why do people do this?” Something she says when people participate in rugged/comfort-threatening activies, or things that involve pets…or Cool Whip.

The Cat

The Bugs – don’t worry, we let them keep the leftovers

But really it wasn’t all bad. As I mentioned in my last post, Russians seem to be more intuned with nature and their naturalness in the nature made my long ago nature-y experiences come back. And although by the last day all of us were counting down the hours left of this, and I am quoting one of the girls, ‘torture’ (insert Mama: “….aaaand why…”), all in all it was a fun experience…ahem, an experience.

We (and by we I mean the others) prepared the fresh fish from the neighbors in a smoker (delicious). And also in Uha, a fish soup, over the camp fire (also pretty tasty). I tried new flavors like smoked lard (I probably won’t eat that again), dried fish (interesting), and caviar from the fish that was prepared in the soup (weird, but good).

Looking back now I would probably go “na pohode/kemping/na peekneek” again, but with a toilet and a shower. And a bed. And a kitchen. And a house.



June 21, 2012

Almost Out For the Rest of Summer

You know how when you finally decide to quit a job that is making you miserable, the last few days will inevitably seem so easy and fun. Almost enough to make you want to stay. The clients, boss or coworkers you wanted to strangle are suddenly interesting and make you laugh as opposed to make you want to jump out the window. Or as the excitement of the end of the school year approaches you suddenly like your teacher/professor’s lame jokes and are enjoying the class immensely. You become desperate to learn more and fear you will forget everything.

Of course I am not saying that we are miserable in Moscow, but I think Andrei and I are itching to get home for a bit. The heaviness one feels sometimes from living here is getting to us. And of course we miss our families. But now that our days are coming to an end, I am suddenly not ready to go. A large didn’t-do list swims in my head (much to my husband’s dismay) and makes me anxious. Places we didn’t visit, people we didn’t call or see, restaurants we didn’t try, churches we didn’t attend.

And of course after looking everywhere for Frank’s Hot Sauce or an acceptable alternative (Tabasco doesn’t really do the trick), I find one just a few weeks before our departure (a week from today!). My husband is obsessed with buffalo wings and at a loss of what to get him for his birthday (I am usually really good at gift selection) I decided to go on a full blown hot sauce search. And there it was on a shelf in a nearby grocery store – Red Devil Cayenne Pepper Sauce. How had I not noticed it before? Before all those countless let-downs at multiple restaurants with buffalo wings on their menu. “…but maybe THIS place does it right,” we would say to convince ourselves we had to order them again.

I googled Red Devil and indeed someone compared it to Frank’s. So I made a dinner of some of Andy’s favorites for his birthday. I had to do it a couple weeks early since his birthday was during lent (yes, yes…another one is currently taking place). We have a fryer at home (one of my better gift ideas) and the grocery stores sell the correct size wingette things, but here I had to make a few compromises (regular size wings because I was too lazy to cut them, baked in oven). They still turned out pretty good. Enough that Andrei started feeling sad about leaving Moscow too. Now that we could have our beloved chicken wings here.

Andrei and I have perfected buffalo wing-making for our taste. After they come out of our fryer, he tosses them in melted butter or margarine and then adds Frank’s sauce and vinegar. For this time around I just put the margarine and hot sauce in a saucepan together and added some vinegar. Then I tossed the sauce on the baked chicken wings (which I had seasoned with salt and pepper before putting in the oven).

I also made blue cheese dressing to go with the wings. If my mom wrote the 10 Commandments one of them would certainly be, “Thou shalt not use salad dressing from a bottle”. I remember the first time she came to visit us in New Jersey. I heard the fridge door open from the other room followed by, “Umm…WHAT is THAT?!” My heart stopped. I forgot to get rid of Andrei’s store-bought bottled Italian dressing! At least that was the only time (I hope) that I have really disappointed my mother. And at least I really could blame Andrei, because that stuff was certainly not mine! Nor were the squeeze bottle jam and BacOs that entered my house when my husband went grocery shopping on his own…the last time he went grocery shopping on his own.

To make the blue cheese I just mix mostly sour cream, a little bit of PLAIN greek yogurt, mayo, a tiny bit of sugar and white vinegar, a dash of salt, garlic powder and pepper and lots and lots of crumbled blue cheese. Yes, it’s not the healthiest dressing, but it’s certainly better than what you are going to buy in the store. And it tastes SO much better too (once you work out the ratios for yourself – be very careful with the yogurt and the vinegar, they ruin the taste the fastest).

One of Andrei’s favorite dessert is brownies. I found this recipe and they came out really well! The frosting on top is especially yummy. It’s funny, they tasted better with age kind of like a soup would. The next day they were even better than the first night we ate them (which made them even more delicious for my volunteer group the next day – who liked the brownies a lot!)

Another too little too late discovery was HP Sauce. It’s British and google search told me it’s sort of, but not really, comparable to A1 sauce, another one of Andy’s favorites that he misses from home. Apparently the Brits put it on EVERYTHING. It isn’t really the same as A1, but it has the same ingredients. So I bought it to surprise him with a steak dinner.

So now leaving feels completely unnecessary, right? Besides the fact that our visas run out July 1st…

I have to admit that I feel a little guilty about my last post because I am really going to miss Moscow until we hopefully return in the Fall. And perhaps some of the checklist was a little harsh. There is a lot that Russia could teach America (if my hater-of-everything-not-USA brother is reading this, he just fell backwards in his chair).

My friend shared an article with me and though I may not agree with everything, it does make some good points. I agree that Russians are more intune with nature (more <sort of> on this in my next post), and know how to rest their soul and their bodies. And although there are PLENTY of people here who seem to only care about clothes and cars, outside the borders of the city center there are many more humble, kind and spiritual people. So we will miss that.

I will miss my new friends that welcomed me so open heartedly. I will miss being forced to speak Russian. I will miss sometimes hearing church bells on Sundays and being able to buy pelmeni, borsht, sirki, and piroshki anywhere and in extensive variety. I will miss the incredible church services, all the onion domes peeking out above the buildings, and my dear dear volunteer group. A few months away from them will feel like eternity. I will even miss the few homeless men who have proposed to me, and the one who always remembers my name and that I am from the US. And I might even miss the mean check out ladies at the store that really scare me.

And I will miss the birch trees. I hope the sounds from their rustling leaves visit me in my dreams.

June 7, 2012

How to Pass as 100% Muscovite or How to Survive Living in Moscow – a checklist

Wherever you go carry a plastic bag of items irrelevant to your activities (for example: old newspapers, a washcloth and tomato seeds to a church service). Just in case.

Never smile when asking a question. Ever.

If your to-do list has 7 items on it, be realistic and cross off the 6 least important (leave them for the rest of the week)

When walking on pedestrian sidewalks be mindful of the cars

Even a trip to McDonalds is no occasion for less than 4″ heels

Always assume the person you’re standing in line behind is saving a spot for 37 more people (in other words, there is never a short line)

If you are a woman – do not attempt to lift anything over 25lbs. You are too weak. Find the nearest man.

If you are a man – deodorant and showering is optional for you. Only ride the metro if you have NOT put on deodorant or a fresh shirt. Also you should carry a man purse.

Be prepared to fill something out a minimum of 4 times. You will do it wrong at least 3 times before it is right. Guaranteed.

Have extra cash on hand for church donation plates and bribes.

Always factor in 40 minutes of aimlessly walking around the wrong metro exit when caculating travel time anywhere.

Never smile when answering a question. Ever.

Do not pay with a 1000 ruble bill for something that is 898 rubles. You must have 98 rubles in your wallet if you want to avoid complete humiliation.

Assume anyone you are speaking to is a complete idiot. Especially if they are American…and smiling.

Write down addresses – they come in several parts: street name, building number, concourse number, entrance number, buzzer number, number of minutes the doorman will hold you hostage before allowing you to proceed to the elevator, floor number, apartment number

Know exactly where you are going if entering a large office building so you can tell the guards at each of 3 checkpoints on your way in

In the spring and summer snowsuits are acceptable outfits for children if there is the slightest hint of a breeze

Feel free to consider any open space anywhere on the street or sidewalk a parking spot (if you run into any trouble, just tap into the reserved bribe money)

My personal goals (less than a month left, oops, until we are home for the summer):

To use Russian filler words when I am speaking (instead of confusing people with ‘anyway’, ‘whatever’, and ‘so’)

Start thinking in Russian (I have already dreamt in Russian #boo-ya!)

Naturally give my telephone number the Russian way – without saying each individual number like 9-6-8, but saying ninehundred sixty eight (in Russian, duh)

Automatically start counting in Russian

To remember what wagon I should be in on the metro to be closest to the correct exit

Update (9 June): To be able to open the cardboard juice boxes that just have outlines (no spout and no opening like a usual milk box that we are used to)

Disclaimer: no offence to anyone who is actually a Muscovite!