Saturday, June 24, 2006

Man, it's been awhile...

Since my last post, I mean. This week has been so very busy. And every day was awesome! On Tuesday we had a couple of tours - one of the Summer Palace of Peter I, and one of the Menshikov Palace (he was the first major of St. Petersburg and one of Peter's best buddies). It was interesting to see the difference between the two places. Peter's palace was very subdued - not nearly as grandiose as Menshikov's. I guess someone had something to prove. Anyway, they were both pretty cool.
Wednesday we had a bus trip to the palaces of Peterhoff and Oranienbaum. It's amazing how much they have done to restore Peterhoff. There are pictures on display of what it looked like after all the bombing in WWII. There was nothing left. Luckily a lot of the items inside were evacuated to Siberia during the war, so many of the paintings and furnishings survived. There were so many people there, though. It was almost as bad as Versailles - nothing but tourists fighting each other to see pretty things. But the gardens were great - and the shade felt really good. It's been so hot here lately that I've felt like I am back in the south :-D.
Oranienbaum was a bit different. They are just beginning to restore the palaces there. There were hardly any tourists - mostly students getting in to see what is being done to bring the palace back to it's original state. The outside of the palace was completely enveloped in scaffolding. But once we were inside, it was just as awesome as any of the other palaces. And it was cool to see restorations as they are happening. I felt special again (not nearly as special as I felt yesterday, but I'll get to that in a second).
On Thursday we had a great tour of the Russian Museum (the first of three - it's really huge). One of the curators took us through the collections of Russian art, from early icons to the early 20th century artists. It's always nice to have someone who knows what they're talking about AND speaks English to teach our class :-D. One of the paintings we saw was "Christ and the Adultress" by Vasily Polenov. It was huge and had an awesome optical illusion - if you look at it from one side and then the other, it looks think the guy on the donkey is heading in two different directions. Too cool. I want to go back there and hang out with that piece some more. And it was only one of a lot of really cool paintings. I'm looking forward to our next two tours there.
Yesterday was really one of the highlights. We went to the restoration and storage facility for the Hermitage. It's a new facility - they only have one of the planned buildings completed. We got to see the first painting that they have "doubled" on their new equipment (doubling is when they replace the canvas on a painting - very difficult and risky procedure), as well as a lot of other works currently in the restoration workshop. Then we were taken through a bunch of the storage areas, and got to see a lot of pieces that are completely awesome but for various reasons are not on display. One was a sultan's tent from the middle east that was given as a diplomatic gift to Catherine the Great. Too cool. It was definitely one of the best days so far. In the afternoon we had a tour of the Scythian gold collection. The Hermitage own the largest collection of Scythian gold. It was really cool. They also have a lot of other really rare gold and jewels. For example, there are only 14 known pairs of Greek gold earrings in the world that have examples of microgranulation - the Hermitage owns 7 of those pairs.
The only thing that really was bothering me this week was the fact that we had a few leeches in our group. This group of four older Americans joined us for the week, and went on all our tours with us. They were the stereotypical American tourists - from the stupid questions and comments down to the gum. A lot of us felt like they were making the rest of the group look bad. But I didn't let them ruin the week. And they are on their way home on Monday, so we don't have to put up with them any more. Woohoo.
Today we had a masterclass in Russian wood painting. It was so much fun. And I felt like I was really good at it too. The teacher kept on saying it looked really nice. I'll be sure to take a picture of it and post it.
Speaking of pictures, I really did post pictures this time. I PROMISE - they're there. I double checked. So check them out ... here.
Tonight is gonna be a big night I think. Lots of stuff planned with the group. Should have a few more stories to tell after this...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I stumbled upon an English copy of Gulliver's Travels in "Dom Knigi" (The "House of Books") the other day. I couldn't help but relate to the following passage (which goes for pictures as well)...
"I hope, the gentle reader will excuse me for dwelling on these, and the like particulars, which however insignificant they may appear to the groveling vulgar minds, yet will certainly help a philosopher to enlarge his thoughts and imagination, and apply them to the benefit of publick as well as private life; which was my sole design in presenting this, and other accounts of my travels to the world; wherein, I have been chiefly studious of truth, without affecting any ornaments of learning, or of style. But, the whole scene of this voyage made so strong an impression on my mind, and is so deeply fixed in my memory, that in committing it to paper, I did not omit one material circumstance; however, upon a strict review, I blotted out several passages of less moment which were in my first copy, for fear of being censured as tedious and triffling, whereof travellers are often, perhaps not without justice, accused." - Jonathan Swift
...this is kind of a long-winded way of saying, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
Also, if any of you have seen the movie "L'Auberge Espanole" ("The Spanish Apartment"), I am definitely feeling like Xavier right now. If you haven't seen it, you should (though I must warn you, it's very French and may offend some of the older generation - but if you're heading abroad, it's a must).
I guess I should catch yall up on what I've been doing over the last few days. Sunday I had a bit of an adventure - I decided that I had reached maximum shagginess and it was time for a haircut. I asked one of my roommates where I should go (she's a model, so I figured she was the one to ask) and she gave me directions to this salon on Nevsky. The girl at the front desk spoke English - but the lady cutting my hair didn't speak a word. I basically told her to make it look good, and that's what she did. I may have paid a little too much for it, but I think the mission was a success. And I definitely feel a lot better than I did with all the hair sticking out every which way. The rest of the day (like my whole weekend) was very lazy - I just lounged around and watched futbol.
I had to get up early on Monday to go to the University. I ended up standing in line for four hours (a great Russian tradition, I hear), to talk to the lady who could fix my schedule. She wasn't in (apparently she also doesn't keep regular office hours, or at least doesn't follow the schedule she has taped to her door), but another lady told me to show up next Monday for my first individual language class. So I guess that's settled. I'm going to be in individual lessons for the next four weeks, then I'll switch to group lessons for another month after the others in the art program have gone home.
I also managed to get a new SIM card for my cell phone, so that I can freely communicate with the others in my program (since I live in a different dorm). And it only cost me 150 rubles! (That's like 6 dollars, by the way). I don't know how much it charges me to receive calls or how much it costs for people to call me from the US, but yall are welcome to try. I do know that Russian cell phones can't be called from Skype yet :-(. But I do check my Skype voicemail everyday, so anybody is welcome to leave me a little motivational message ;-).
Last night (thanks to the ease of having a cell phone again), I met up with the rest of the group and we went to a private banya (bathhouse). It wasn't the tradition "naked-old-ladies-beating-each-other-with-sticks" kind - it was this little place that Nastya found where you can reserve the whole place for a group. It only cost us 200 rubles each. Well worth the small price - it was so relaxing! Gleb, Drew, and I were the only two who did the full submersion in the cold water after the sauna. It was really cold, but felt really nice (especially getting out). And it was a nice little introduction to what awaited me back at the dorm...
I hesitate to mention this last thing, for fear that I might receive an onslaught of "I-told-you-so's". But when I got home from the banya, my roommates informed me that there would be no hot water for the next month. "Why?" I asked. Katya's reply - "Because Russia is a great country." Har har har. Apparently this is not unusual - for buildings to shut down the hot water in the summer to "fix the pipes for the winter." I guess it's better that I didn't know about this ahead of time - otherwise I would have been dreading this day. But I'll live - I guess I'll just be going to the banya a bit more often. And Katya told me a story that assures me it could be worse - apparently they recently had a year with NO WATER in Vladivostock (where she's from). Hmmm. Sounds delightful.
Anyway, I'm going to go run a few errands before going home and cooling off in my nice cold shower. I'm posting some pictures on flickr, so make sure you check it too.