a big beautiful mess

Winter comes to Russia

Well, as usual, Moscow was a wonderful experience. As not usual, I was happy to leave. I think it says something when, after a long, busy, exciting, tiring weekend in the big city, all I wanted to do was be back home in my bed in Arkhangelsk.

The best part of the trip was reconnecting with Randi, Juliana, and Xirsti. I got back in touch with the Russia Bug through them, and I am determined to subscribe to the Randianne Leyshon Russia devotional regimen for the rest of the time I’m here. We talked about our different relationships with Russia– an intense romance, a childhood dream, a marriage. All these crazy metaphors help me to put it into perspective. There’s no way this thing will make sense in real life. The four of us did things like eating at a Thai restaurant and not caring when they spoke to us in English. We went to Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, Randi and I wandered Old Arbat together, Juliana and I stayed up late talking, Xirsti painted my fingernails. It was good.

Apart from the rejuvenation of personal friendships, the conference itself was amazing. Being surrounded by all these other Fulbrighters who are passionate about Russia, but more importantly, about what they’re doing, was so energizing and exciting! There was Peter Sigrist, who is the first person I’ve met to share my love of Soviet block housing. The difference is, he’s able to explain it, and in fact, the green spaces and courtyards around these apartment blocks is what his research project is on. And I met Julia Phillips, who’s doing a creative writing project in Kamchatka, hanging out with babushki and asking them about their lives, recording their stories. And then there was Ellen Bastian, whose energy and rapid-fire, articulate talk had us riveted throughout her whole presentation; we never knew how interested we were in fertilizer.

Living in Arkhangelsk has been much more personally challenging than I anticipated. But there’s still a reason I’m here. There’s a reason I fell in love with Russia, even if I can’t put it into words, and the things I fell in love with — the block housing, the cranes and constant remont, speaking to a suspension between decay and revitalization, the weighty sense of history, the extremes, the juxtaposition of the ancient and the western, the sky — are still things I love. And being around all these people who are so in touch with their own reasons for loving Russia makes me even more determined to get back in touch with mine.

I’m against the whole popular cult of New Years’ Resolutions, but I try to set myself goals all the time, and revise my goals when it seems necessary. I’ve set myself some goals for the second half of my time here, to reframe my experience by new knowledge, by keeping in mind the attitudes and passions and energy I absorbed at the conference this weekend. I’ve tried to set goals that are small-scale, realistic for me, and that will make a concrete impact on my time and well-being here. Here are some of them.

  • Speak more English with my colleagues, and more Russian with everybody.
  • Write comics, draw more, upload webcomics.
  • Write postcards.
  • Spend more time at coffee shops in town. There are some really good ones!
  • Read for leisure. I’m working on The Catcher in the Rye right now.
  • Read about Russia, inform myself about the history and art and culture that I’ve blindly gotten into this long-term relationship with.
  • Read in Russian.
  • Watch movies. I’ve already watched Dogville, V for Vendetta, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the first being a movie recommended by my students, and the latter two being movies I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time. Next up is Citizen Kane.
  • Go to the library at least once a week.

Now that I’m back in Arkhangelsk, it seems winter has come finally. On the bus today, on the way to a student’s birthday party, an enthusiastic lady on the radio was excited to announce that it was finally down at -16°C [about 3°F]. Meanwhile for some of my fellow ETAs in Siberia, it’s been -50° [does it really matter whether it’s C or F?] for weeks. I’m happy, though, because it’s finally cold enough that the cloud cover has disappeared. The sky was blue and bright today, and when I got home from the birthday party in the dark at 9pm, there was Orion, leaning over the rooftops outside my dorm building. It feels good to have him back.


  1. 24 January 2012    

    Seems like all good news, here. Making goals makes sense. In Montenegro I had a lot of time on my hands (as you know) and for the only time in many years (before and since) I really had a chance to feel something like boredom. I spent a lot of time thinking about…lots of things. I reflected on my research, and saw some of the connections that I wanted to make that I am still working out. And I did a lot of planning, more or less laying out my life and career goals for the next number of years.

    About the cold — I’ve written about that, just yesterday, on Cowbird.

  2. -randianna -randianna
    24 January 2012    

    this post makes me so happy!! i’m glad my devotional regime to the path of total Russian conversion is working on someone! i’m going to try to keep it up. also, can I please just copy this blog and use it for my own? that’s kosher, right?

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