15 June 2008

A Bit About My Host Family, and Some Other Things I've Been Up To

My host family is wonderful. They live in the Admiralty region, which is about a 20 minute walk from Smolny (so I’m walking to class, rather than taking public transport), not far from the Marinskii theater (which was mentioned several times in my Russian Theater as Revolution course last semester, and we’re later going to to see a production of Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose). My host parents are Sergei (a psychologist and singer) and Zhanna (an English teacher), and they have five children. I’ve only met one of the daughters so far, her name is Inna, and she’s studying music at the university. Besides Inna, they have two sons and two other daughters. I think the two I probably won’t meet are their twin daughters, who I believe are working as camp counselors this summer. It’s been difficult understanding them when they speak Russian so far, but I’m hoping that it will get better when classes begin tomorrow and we permanently switch over into using Russian all the time. Fortunately, they speak English fairly well, so if it really comes down to it, we can communicate.
Today itself has been quite exciting. I feel like I’ve been all over the city, and that’s probably because I have. I went on a walk this morning, across the Neva River over near Smolny. I didn’t get lost; I was proud of myself. Then, I figured out how to use the bus system. The students and some of the staff and the tutors got together for a picnic and some games in Tavricheskii Sad, which is on the same side of the Neva as I am, but would be an hour’s walk. The first time I got on the right busline, but going in the wrong direction, so I ended up at the end of the line. So I got out, walked a few stops on the route on foot and then got back on the bus again, which eventually got me to Tavricheskii Sad around 3. We were meeting at 2, so I thought I was an hour late, but I got there and they had postponed it to 4, so I was an hour early! If I’d gotten on the correct bus the first time, the trip there would have cost me 16 rubles instead of 32, but I figured it was one of the first times I’ve been on a bus myself, and it was my first transaction in rubles, so I did pretty well. We ate some food (pirozhki, chips, fruit, bagely-pretzel things, biscuits, cookies), and I played some frisbee and soccer. (Holy cow, if I played frisbee a little bit more, I could get better and that would be super fun times.) The director of the program (who reminds me very much of what Andy Barnett would be like if he was 32 and into Russia instead of environmentalism) kept talking about Oberlin kids liking frisbee so much. I wasn’t playing at first, but then I guess I started channeling the Oberlin spirit…

Then! I took the bus home and knit for a while and ate dinner. THEN after dinner, my host father and I rode around the city on bikes for about an hour, and he showed me many parks and statues and beautiful architecture, some of which I’d seen before, and some of which I hadn’t. Perhaps the best part was when we went past the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. It looks a lot like St. Basil’s Cathredral (in Moscow; that’s the one with the all the colorful onion domes that I want to make into a silly hat series), and coming around it on the curved road into the sunshine was absolutely wonderful. I also appreciated this: I thought it was hard understanding my host father when he was speaking Russian across the dinner table. Try 3-4 meters behind him on a bike on Universitetskaya Haberezhnaya (a busy street along the Neva).

As far as adjusting goes, things are going pretty well. I didn’t have a hard time with jet lag really, for some reason, probably because I lost so much time, but also lost so much sleep in the process that I was ready for bed whenever. I’ve pretty much evened out, I think. Really, the hardest thing to adjust to is going to bed on time, and it’s not even the white nights that cause it. I think it’s the different mealtimes. Here, lunch is in the afternoon, probably between 1 and 3, and dinner is between 8 and 10. Breakfast is timed similarly. Consequently, there’s not that much time between dinner and bed. Maybe a couple of hours. In the U.S., for a student anyway, it can be more like five hours. It’s interesting. And speaking of bed, it’s 11:46 right now… tomorrow’s quite the morning.

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