31 December 2011

С новым годом!

I welcomed the New Year in what might be an untraditional way (mostly alone, albeit communicating with people far away), but I made sure to do it in the company of strangers.

In addition to witnessing the buildup of the countdown, cheers, well wishes, and dancing (to ABBA, of course), I have also been settling in with this project. I'm quite pleased with how it's turning out, even if I had envisioned being farther into it by the beginning of 2012.

С новым годом, друзья!
Happy New Year, dear friends!
You have meant so much to me this year, and I look forward to spending 2012 with you.

Break in a Five Item List: So now it's Day 8...

So, around Day 5, I got sick. There's been a lot of:

1. Sleep until heart's content.
2. Drink (tea/orange juice/Coke).
3. Watch Merlin.
4. Don't knit.
5. Spend too much time on the internet.

Haven't done a lot of reading.
Haven't done a lot of shopping.
Haven't done a lot of knitting, frankly.

But I did make a zine.
I did buy a new shirt, vest and tie for tonight.
And I have made some preparations for a 12-hour songwriting marathon tomorrow.

27 December 2011

Break in a Five-Item List - Days 3 and 4

Monday, 26 December:

1. Missed out on a drag show. Fortunately, I got to say hi to all the friends who were on the correct continent and could be there.
2. Knit, and was pleased.
3. Watched Make the Yuletide Gay (and knit). Pretty cute. Even the Minnesota/Wisconsin accents.
4. Skype date!
5. Walked through a windy night to collect B's apartment key and say goodbye/serve as moral support about calling the taxi company. (B: notice that none of those words we looked up helped. You would have been fine without unearthing the dictionary. Confidence!)

Tuesday, 27 December:

1. Knit. (Pretty sure this will be on almost every day)
2. Naps!
3. Visited the bank, about half an hour too late to do everything I needed, but it did allow me to buy groceries.
4. Between the bank and groceries, I sat around and was mopey for a while.
5. Came home, cooked myself a dinner of pasta with ground turkey and broccoli, and started watching Merlin.

We can blame all future interest in Merlin on the fearsome bowler.

25 December 2011

Break in a Five-Item List - Days 1 and 2

For the last few years, I've tried to make a habit of posting five-item lists each day during the month of January. Since I seem to usually lose steam during week three, and I just started a two-week break from work, I figured I'd start the tradition a little early, and use it to add a little structure to my giant window of unscheduled time.

This weekend has been my first Christmas away from home, and so a new experience. However, because it isn't Christmas in Russia until 7 January, it doesn't feel very much like Christmas. I know it is on a conscious level, but I don't feel it very strongly here.

On Christmas Eve, I:
1. Discovered the excitement that is Virtual Choir 3.0. Downloaded and began learning a voice part.

2. Acquired yarn and needles for a hat I promised to a co-worker.

It was super foggy in Vgrad.

3. Ate a pizza from the street stand that I've been intending to patronize for months now.

4. Left my cocktail selection up to the bartender, which resulted in three very different, interesting, and sugary drinks.

5. Knit and watched Love, Actually, intermittently chatting with Amoeba.

On Christmas, I:
1. Woke up and was promptly invited to a puppet show, which was fantastic.

(L to R: M, Дед Мороз, fecknom, Снегурочка, and B)

2. Finished my co-worker's hat.

(Windscheif, by Stephen West)

3. Bought a grey and purple striped sweater. Thin, but very warm.

4. Ate dinner at the local German restaurant, and engaged in an obnoxious and tiring discussion of women's rights, privilege, victim-blaming, racism, and general giving-a-shit-about-the-world. (This was probably the part of the day that made miss folks from home the most.)

5. Talked to my family, and was thankful: I have no idea how people lived abroad or navigated long-distance relationships pre-Skype.

I'm settling in for another night of movies and knitting. The difference with tonight is that instead of knitting a simple hat, I'll be getting into the meat of this colorwork sweater that I've been planning for so long. It's going to be intense, but a friend reminded me (via blog) of a quote that suits this project well:

"Just don't worry; worry ruins your knitting."
Elizabeth Zimmerman

03 December 2011

In other news...

...I am thankful for some wonderful people!

We have learned this week that large envelopes move through the Russian postal system FAR quicker than packages. According to the package experiences of others, when my friend put a generous assortment of zines in the mail in early November, I expected to see them in early January, at the earliest.

Boy, was I surprised this week.

Zines! Thank you, L!

Aside from the sweater and zine highlights, it's been a rough week here. It's been a busy and stressful one at work, and I've been thinking a lot about a couple of friends/families that are dealing with some tough stuff right now. I'm oscillating between keeping my thoughts with those folks, and thinking about being far away from my family as the holiday season starts. To top it off, Friday night decided to make itself into an aggravated little monster.

I'm incredibly lucky, though, and I try really hard to not lose sight of that. I've been blessed to catch up with a few friends this past week. I'm also talking to this human whenever I get the chance, and those conversations, in all their 6000-mile width, make everything so much easier.

02 December 2011

A Rare Enthusiasm Has Struck

I'm wide awake, and my mind is completely occupied with being a verbose and angry queer, but really, there is this sweater, and I've been meaning to tell you about it all week, and since I'm up and typing, I figure I might as well bang this post out.

Well, there isn't a sweater, so much as there is some yarn and an idea.

And it isn't so much an idea, as much as it's a well-formulated plan that's been kicked about in my brain for, oh, two and half years now. The difference this time is, I'm actually excited about it.

It all starts with this completely other knitting project. I finished a lace shawl a few weeks ago (Vernal Equinox in Iskra). I needed a new project that wasn't the socks I'm inexplicably avoiding, and the mittens I made only kept me occupied for a week. I organized my stash, pored over the lace patterns I currently have access to, and settled on the Firmaments Lace Shawl in Lidiya. It was a little fiddly at the beginning (as it seems most circular shawls are), but since it starting filling out the center of the needle, it's been lovely.

The needles are my new favorites: my Addi Lace needles, size 4. I love, love, love my Addi Turbos, but the plastic cable in the lace ones means I don't have to worry about accidentally kinking the cable, like I do with the metal ones.

Of course, almost immediately after casting-on, I began thinking about this sweater.

Three years ago, during my last year at Oberlin, I bought this yarn. I had used another colorway to make my dad a scarf for Christmas, and had been drooling over the rest of the skeins since. When I graduated, my knitting circle companions presented me with a gift certificate to Smith's, Oberlin's yarn shop (and the site of our knitting circle). I took home the green and dark brown, made a swatch, having planned a simple colorwork pattern to be knit up on 5s and 6s. When I got home to Minnesota, I bought a couple of other colors (the tan and orange) to supplement my yardage.

The plan was to knit an Elizabeth Zimmerman seamless yoke sweater. I swatched and started knitting.

Thankfully, reason stepped in (or rather, tried on the first few inches of the body), and pointed out that this yarn was 100% alpaca, and that alpaca tends to lose it's shape easily (and also that ribbing was a terrible idea and that I had cast on too many stitches). I decided 5s and 6s weren't going to cut it. I agonized for a long time. I had had, in the past, clothing turn out to be far less satisfying than I expected, and this project had some pretty high expectations. Over time, I became afraid that this yarn was doomed to be a disappointment. I set the yarn aside, and it sat for at least a year and a half.

So when I was struck with this sudden optimistic enthusiasm to pick this project back up, I knew I needed to jump on it. The only problem: I had decided, for shape-holding purposes, to knit the project with more colorwork and on a smaller needle. I knew I couldn't take the needle size down too far, but I had settled on 3.5mm circulars.

Which is a US 4. Precisely the needles I had just used to cast on a 1700-yard shawl.

Clearly, as most knitters know, the answer was to buy a new needle. I went to the local yarn shop by work, and inquired about the Addis they had in stock. Sadly, they were low, but they told me they expecting a shipment soon. I came back the afternoon of the shipment (last Thursday), but was disappointed. At the weekend, I found another shop that carried some cheap circular needles, which will suffice. I brought them home, and knit (and blocked!) myself a swatch.

I'm still waffling a little on the size, since I'm aware that the parts with colorwork will have little give, and the parts without will have a lot, which means I haven't cast on yet. I've mostly been doing a lot of math and calculations and rewording the pattern.

I'm inverting EZ's technique for this one. Since the smaller needle size and increased colorwork has me worried about running out of yarn, it seems the logical answer is to start at the neck, instead of at the hems, and we'll see how long the arms get in the end, and how much detail we can insert on the body.

The plans as they look now: Here are the several-month-old Excel colorwork sketches. It's not exactly what I'll knit, since I haven't checked their compatibility with various stitch counts, but it probably won't be too far off from this:

PS. These are definitely adapted from an Alice Starmore pattern book.

04 November 2011

October in Volgograd

I've been in Volgograd for a couple of months, now. I guess I should show you around.
My building.

Local tunnel. Стоматология = dentist.
Local graffiti.
Local corner.
Local ferris wheel (blurry, at night).
This is Sasha, and my wool blanket. These two major things make my apartment feel like a home.
Local monument.
The tramvai.
The wall inside Читай-Город. (Read City, a bookstore's whose name is a play on the Russian version of the name 'Chinatown'.)
Possibly the most fascinating part of my neighborhood. This is in a park behind my apartment, and it appears to be an empty fountain. What or who used to be honored on the platform in the center, I have no idea. I wish I knew.
Here, we have the neighborhood in October.

And of course, the knitting: the lace I've been working on either hasn't been photographed, or has been a source of frustration. So here are the Riverbed Socks that I am designing. I'm not sure there will be a concrete pattern in the end, but I am pleased that I found a stitch pattern that works well with the variegation of this yarn.

16 October 2011

Nestling In

I've been finding it hard to work up the energy to leave the house on the weekends. I operate too much inside my head and I'm conscious of the fact that this could be considered a symptom of culture shock. However, I think I'm going to cling to the idea that I like being holed up in my residence, inside my little den of creativity.

Yes, I should be outside. I should be appropriately dressing for the weather to go watch a Rotor football match. I should be walking around my neighborhood. I should be shopping for tennis shoes. I should be grocery shopping and planning meals for the week. Hell, it's my favorite month. I should be outside pittering around like the amateur photographer I fancy myself to be.

The alternative is that I could stay here, and knit my shawl, and watch the X Files. I could read, or listen to books and music. I could learn to play new songs. I could not interact with anyone until I presumably chat with my love on Skype later.

From the outside, it probably does look like culture shock. But: I did this in Minnesota. I did this during every school break at Oberlin. Why shouldn't I do it here?

I think today, for a change, I'm settle on the medium of going for a walk with my camera, and settling down with my shawl at a cafe. Warm and relaxed, but at least out of the house.

27 August 2011

Gender, Moscow, Coffee, Language

Exciting things happen when Ethan wanders about Moscow!

Friday night, after teaching, several of us hung around the kiosk outside Language Link's building, drinking beers and deciding what to do. Brandon was really excited about this hookah bar he'd been to when he studied in Moscow, and wanted to go again. Belly dancers come out and perform every half hour, and the hookah is good (and well priced, and it lasts). We had meant to visit this place a couple of weekends ago, but didn't reach the metro in time. We decided to give it another go.

Turns out they have gender-neutral restrooms there. The waitstaff directed me to the туалет, where I only found one door. On the other side, there were two sinks, and two more floor-to-doorframe doors, which were individual stalls. The second time I used it (we stayed there for a while), I walked in and got behind another guy in line. When two women came in, he let them go in front of him in line. (He did not extend this offer to me.)

It was odd, and interesting and fun. There have been few moments in this country where I've interacted with people in a way that can give me a bearing on how they interpret my gender. So when the moments come, they're still fascinating.

It's actually not the first time I've seen gender-neutral restrooms. Last weekend, several of us went to a bar/club called Augie (I think?), where the dance floor occasionally turned into a mosh pit. Their restroom was basically the same construction, with the sinks along a small corridor.

Today brought even more fun!

I had met up with some other interns for dinner (we found a sixties-themed American-style restaurant, which surprisingly had normal-tasting ketchup). We were walking toward the metro when Ilya decided to give in to the temptations of Starbucks (which is hella expensive here), so our group went inside. I was feeling dehydrated, and settled on buying a tiny bottle of apple juice, so I waited behind Ilya in line.

When we got to the front of the queue, Ilya ordered his drink, and they wanted to write his name on the cup, so they asked what his name was. His name is Russian, but he's used to people in the US and other places not recognizing the name, so he often uses one of his middle names instead. He then remembered that it's Russia and they get 'Ilya' as a name, and had a short conversation with the woman at the till about where he was from and what he's doing in Russia.

So then, when I got to the till, she asked me about myself, too. The first question, of course, was 'What is your name?'

'Bethany,' I answered, not really thinking much.

'Patrick?' she asked, which is apparently what she heard over the din of the shop.

'Yes,' I said.

Since this was all happening in Russian, I then proceeded to switch all of the past tense verbs I used to masculine endings. It was not as hard as I'd expected. It was quite easy, in fact.

Russian is a much more gendered language than English. In the past tense, you conjugate verbs as either masculine, neuter, feminine, or plural, and many words that describe a person's position (student, teacher, waiter, etc.) are also gendered. I'd given thought to trying to practice using masculine endings, but was worried that it would lead to awkward situations. There's a bunch of things that I know how to say well enough that I can say them without thinking too much, which I say to give myself time to think about how to phrase more challenging things. I was worried that if I started using masculine pronouns and endings sometimes, that I'd start inadvertently saying them when I was with someone who perceives me as female.

Apparently, I'm much more conscious about using gendered language (even in Russian) than I thought.

Anyway, those have been some of the happiest moments of my weekend thus far.

I might find another yarn store tomorrow, which is a whole different sort of happiness.

14 August 2011

Week One

Week one of the four-week training is complete, and I kind of feel like I'm in college again. I hope that feeling goes away soon. I liked college, but it's hard to feel like I'm at my job when I'm in classes (as a student) all day. Real teaching (teaching actual live students!) starts up this week, which I imagine will significantly change the tone of the program.

These weekends in Moscow, it's becoming clear, will be mash-ups of sleeping, gallivanting about with new friends, and staying home and surfing the internet like the hardcore introvert the I am.

First, a few introductory photos of the room in Svetlana's apartment in which I am staying, and the view from outside the window.

Also, the inside of Новослободская (Novoslobodskaya), the metro station by the Language Link Central School. If you stand around this station for more than about five minutes, you'll see a tour group pass through.

Saturday, I met up with some friends at ВДНХ (Vdnkh, the metro station with no vowels), to visit the nearby park, Всеросийский Выставочный Центр (ВВЦ) (the All-Russian Exhibition Centre). It's full of buildings and statues, more than trees and such, but it's still an enjoyable park.

For a park that puts Soviet culture on display (and is guarded by a giant statue of Lenin), it's become quite accustomed to capitalism. There are kiosks selling kvas and beer and hot dogs, and tables full of souvenirs. You can tool around on a rented bike, or take small children to many attractions that remind me of the state fair.

They also have a ferris wheel!

Before leaving ВДНХ, we walked a bit to go see a large statue that wasn't inside the park. It's quite enormous, and quite well-known. Called 'Worker and Kolkhoz Woman', it was made for the 1937 World's Fair in Paris, and later moved to Moscow.

I don't know one goes about moving a beast like this.

I tried to be cool and take a not-too-Myspacey photo of myself in front of it. I ended up with a great shot of Ilya as an omnipotent deity, too.

Then we met up with a few more friends to find a Georgian restaurant. I have no photographic evidence of the delicious khinkali that we ate (if you don't believe me, it's okay, I'm open to eating them again). But these photos are from the little park near the metro. The curly-haired man in the green cape with his hand in his vest is Pushkin.