26 November 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have even greater sympathy for the Pilgrim women to whom fell the task of creating the first Thanksgiving feast.

They were charged by their menfolk to create a feast in order to celebrate the goodness and mercy of God. They were alive. They had food. They had homes. Surely it was time to celebrate!

I'm sure the women were just as eager to celebrate. At least some of them must have greeted this task with joy. In the back of their minds were other harvest feasts and other celebrations with family and friends in England and Holland. They must have been so eager to make this new world HOME by celebrating together. I'm sure their mouths watered at the thought of familiar foods.

Then they looked around them. The food in front of them, though plentiful, was not the food they had eaten in England. I would have loved to have heard them as they tried to figure out how to make this unfamiliar food fill the place of traditional foods.

Cranberries, for example, must have been a puzzle. And, having now had first-hand experience of fresh, non-Ocean Spray cranberries, I can tell you that they are ridiculously difficult to rid of stems and leaves. They all stick together and won't wash away. It took me an hour on Wednesday to pick through about a cup and a half of cranberries!! (St. Petersburg is marshy so we do have them here...) And then--what were they to do with them? I think their sauce was inspired. But, while it immediately says "holiday" to the contemporary American palate, it was a new taste for our Pilgrims. So, too, was it with so many of their foods.

I am always grateful to be an American. The more I travel, the more that is true. I love to see other people, other cultures and other lands, but I'm very glad that I can rest secure in the knowledge that America is home. I am grateful to the Pilgrim women who scratched their heads and came up with foods that, in a small way, represent that American home.

The historian in me knows all about evolving trations, Abe Lincoln declaring it a holiday, etc. etc. But, please, leave me with my picture of the Pilgrim women gathered around a communal oven scratching their heads at the raw materials of their proposed feast. I like the picture of the women...coping. And that coping, that initiative, that making the best of what they were given is surely as American as cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving Day.

Lastly (though I debated whether to include this anecdote as that last sentence was such a nice ending...), I want to tell you about my classroom on Thanksgiving Day. The school was filled with an energy. One of the parents brought in turkeys and fixings so the whole school smelled like Thanksgiving. I'd been up the night before baking pies. The second graders all brought a vegetable and we made soup. They learned how to safely peel and chop their vegetable. They were so excited! I'm sure part of that was my excitement. I LOVE Thanksgiving! (second favourite day only to Christmas eve)I told them that one of my favourite parts of Thanksgiving was spending the day in the kitchen with my friends cooking together. One of my students said, "And that's what you're doing today!" They are a lovely class and I'm very thankful to have them.

I hope your Thanksgiving was as nice as mine.


09 November 2005

the monkeys

Here is a picture of my class! Note the traces of sunrise behind them. This was taken at 10 am last Tuesday. Do any of you bloggers know how to rotate this? The insert pix page doesn't have that as an option...

23 October 2005

last pix for now

We're nearly to school now. After walking under and through this building (expensive furniture store on the left, Japanese restraunt on the right) you see this. Turn right, and you're nearly to school. Or, continue straight for a block to buy a Coke first. You can get a cold one for 20 R at the shop that looks like it's a florist. Acutally, the florist is in the front part. In the middle there is a shop that sells cleaning supplies, shampoo, lotions and nail polish remover (hard to find). At the back there is a small grocery shop. They have doughtnuts and salads and basic groceries. I thought I saw peanut brittle there one day! This shop sells beer, vodka, etc., too. There is often a queue at 8 am for alcohol. The shopkeepers sell it without batting an eye. But, my request for adeen bolshoi Coca Cola puzhalsta was greeted with an incredulous, "Coca Cola?" at that hour. The brick building is the fire station.

If you turn right, this is what you see. The yellow building is a newly remodeled kindergarten. It's vey smart! There are rumours of mafia money... Our school is next door to it, but in such a shady shpt that pictures are difficult to come by until the trees lose their leaves. Also seen in this picture is the less than lovely soviet contribution to the architecture of this city. The ugly, concrete boxes are quite a contrast to the rest of the city.

So, that's my walk to work! Thanks for coming along. It's takes 20 minutes to walk from the door of my flat to the door of the school. Now I'll reverse the journey and head home.


Troitsky Most

These are more pictures of my bridge. The one on the right is my favourite. They were taken on an early morning walk to school. Now, it's dark (or sometimes just in the morning twilight--"dawn" always seems to be a specific point in time. Dawn breaks. Twilight lingers. If "twilight" means between light and dark, can't we have twilight in the morning as well as in the evening? I choose to, no matter what anyone says.) on my way in to school.

And below we see the bridge from the Petrogradsky side of the river. The Neva looks so blue here! It's been black lately. You can see the Church of Spilled Blood spires rising like Dairy Queen ice cream behind. I live in the second block of flats to the right of the bridge (though not facing the river.)

and bobs

Here are some photos!

The building covered in scaffolding and green netting is mine--11 Milyonaya. My flat is on the top floor. I'm anxious to see what it looks like when it's unveiled. The dark green building at the end of the street is the Hermitage. Can you see it? The light green building in the foreground with "T-Albert" spray painted on it is where a Russian pop star lives.

If you come out of my flat and look right, you see the Hermitage. If you look left, this it what you see. The building on the right side of the street with the collums is T-Albert's. Just past that is the field of Mars. I turn left there to go across the bridge, Troitsky Most, to school (the Field of Mars is behind me as I cross the bridge).

Here is my bridge! It's my favourite part of my walk to school, and the most beautiful bridge in the city. It was designed by Mr. Eiffel, of towering fame. You can see the Aurora Crusier in this photo (sunk to avoid destruction by the Nazi's in WWII, just repainted yellow...). To the left of it is the mosque that looks like an evil spider. To the right is the MTC building. Our school is right behind MTC.


Our lovely indian summer is over. Last weekend it abruptly came to an end and autumn entered forcefully. Until that time, we'd been enjoying cool, sunny days. Last weekend it started raining and the temperature dropped. It was so cool on Tuesday that whomever is in charge of heating in this city turned on the heat at the school.

Most of the heating in the city is centrally controlled. The government--or the mininster in charge of climatic control or somesuch--turns it on after x number of days when the temperature is below y. X and Y are different for different categories of buildings--schools, public buildings, government offices, residences. My flat has its own heat...although the lowest setting is 39 C!! I've had heat on and windows open just like everyone else. I just had it sooner.

This week is fall break. Hooray! I got a flu shot on Friday (which seemed only sensible with the mobile, international student body we have) and am still feeling rotten. But, how WONDERFUL it is to know that I have the TIME to feel rotten. I've been lolling on the couch watching Joan of Arcadia (DVD)and last season's Strictly Come Dancing (BBC Prime). But, I pried myself off the couch and walked into school to say privet to all of you.

My computer has arrived!! Well, my Mac mini hard drive has arrived. It came over with a friend of another teacher. Now I have to get a monitor, keyboard and mouse. And, I have to have my broadband activated. This whole computer process started BEFORE I arrived. I was advised to sell my pc in England and wait until I got here to sort out a computer for here. (This was bad advice. Bring your computer with you if you move to Russia.) Then, when I arrived TWO AND A HALF MONTHS AGO, I asked about computers. I was told the IT guy would get me prices. The IT guy said he'd have prices for me the next day--with a school discount. I was asked about broadband (the last tenants had it) and I said to leave it turned on. Eight weeks later, I got the pc prices. The discount was only 4%. It was going to cost around $2000. I ordered a Mac from the US instead. I checked to be sure that my internet access was on and ready. It had been turned off. The estimates range from ten days to three months for having it turned back on.

This is my biggest frustration living in Russia. It was a similar frustration that I had in England, but it's much more pronounced here. Everything takes a LONG time. But, that's somewhat to be expected. What frustrates me is the resignation of the people around me. Everyone just shrugs and accepts inefficency. That drives me mad!

For now, though, I'm excited about having my computer at home. I'm looking forward to being able to chat with friends and browse through both information and shops online. I'm enjoying the time off and hoping to civilize my cat. I'm also planning a wander through the Hermitage. I'll let you know how I find it...


ps I've changed the settings regarding publishing comments. PLEASE don't let this discourage you. Knowing that these blogs are being read is the only thing that keeps me writing. Sometimes I feel like a falling tree in a Russian forest. I only changed the setting to stop the annoying spamentators--or whatever they're called. Please register and comment! I haven't received any spam from being registered here...


07 October 2005

worldly goods

My shipment arrived on Tuesday! The school shipped six cubic meters of my things to Russia for me. With all my culling (read: selling nearly everything I owned to go to drama school--and then being an actor without the means to buy it all back), ALL my worldly goods fit in that six cubic meters! (Okay, I DID ship many boxes from England...)

When they came to pack me up, I chatted to the movers. I said I thought it would be interesting to see what people chose to fill their allocated space. He said that most people ship food! I wonder what my things said about me?

When the boxes arrived, it was interesting to see how they have sorted and labelled my life. All the boxes said "books", "photos" or "linens". There were two boxes that said "dishes" (gotta love Pottery Barn...). And, that's pretty much what there was! I have lots of paper in my life...

While it's nice to have my things again, it makes me feel LESS at home in some ways. Now that the bookshelves are full of Jane and Charles and William, and MY bed is in the bedroom covered in periwinkle sheets, a charcoal tweed spread and Faith's purply-blue blanket, and the wardrobe has a bit of Emma & Maddie's artwork up it feels less like my place, somehow. Before, it was just a place I was living. I knew the, frankly, UGLY wallpaper wasn't mine. I knew the, frankly, ugly rug wasn't mine. They were just there. It was like living in a hotel. Now, the wallpaper and the rug look even LESS kateish when compared to genuine kateish things...

It's time to hit eBay and IKEA for kateish bits...


20 September 2005

small joys and victories

There is no better place to be on your birthday than in a primary school classroom.

Because my birthday presents from my family arrived at school, my students knew that my birthday was coming. They eagerly counted down the days with me. They looked forward with joy to the day's approach. They even were excited about the spelling test we'd have because it would be a birthday spelling test! (I admit, I foster this joy. We do everything with happy hearts, with glee and delight, in second grade.)

When the day arrived, I received songs and dances, birthday hugs, handmade cards, a special shell and sparkly rocks, a necklace made of pretty straws, and flowers of all sorts--real, tissue paper, drawn, cut out and glued together. I even had a birthday hat made by a student that proudly proclaimed, "Happy Birthday, Miss Christian! 36 years old" I brought in brownies and we ate with abandon! The grown-ups at school even provided a card and a cake. It was a really nice day.

On Saturday I celebrated many small victories. All by myself I followed directions to a part of town I hadn't visited and found an electronics shop. (This meant reading signs in Russian even though the directions were in English.) I bought a dvd player (for the price I wanted) and had them change it to a multisystem player even though no one in the shop spoke English. On the way home I stopped at a kiosk and bought a ham and cheese blini (think crepe) without the ham (Sally Albright takes St. Petersburg). When I got home, I was able to watch my birthday dvd's.

I was quite chuffed with myself.

Let me know about your small joys and victories so we can celebrate them together.


14 September 2005

Advice I've Been Given

Don't drink the water.
Beware of gyspies.
Stay away from the mosque on Fridays--too many gypsies.
If a gypsy throws a baby at you, don't catch it.
It is a scam that allows gypsy children to surround you and pick your pockets.
Don't pick up money you find on the ground. It's another scam.
When in doubt about your reception as a foreigner (ie when you want to buy something and think your lack of Russian and dreadful accent will up the price considerably) pretend you have been "selected mute".
Pay the bribes.
You'll be happy to know that most of this advice falls in the category of other survival advice I've received in my lifetime--run uphill if chased by a bear because their front legs are shorter, hit a shark firmly on the nose with your fist to discourage it, etc. I haven't had any babies thrown at me, haven't been stopped by the police, and haven't had to play mute.
I don't, however, drink the water.
Enjoy your day!!

21 August 2005


It's Sunday afternoon. Tomorrow, I'll meet my students and their parents. Tuesday, classes start. For now, I'm at school. It's quiet. There are a few teachers attending to last minute details. The guard is downstairs by the door. It's just clouded over and my bnl cd has just finished. While I do want to beat the storm home, I also want to take a few minutes to catch up with all of you.

I arrived in Moscow without a hitch. The next day I headed to St. Petersburg on the train after my passport had been whisked to the US Embassy for amendments to my visa. The train ride was great. It was a little daunting going by myself--I wasn't sure when to get off!--but it all worked out fine. The seats were really plush. A man walked up and down the aisle selling chips and vodka. With a little deduction I disembarked at the right place.

And what a place this is! St. Petersburg is beautiful. The buildings are lovely albeit a bit shabby. There's a grace and a languor about the city. It feels as if it's just waking up after a good nap. The renovations being done everywhere make me think of a grand lady's maids scurrying around to ready their mistress for a late supper. It's a very clean city and is readily accessible on foot.

My flat is on Millionaya (that's pretty much how you say it...) which means million. Where else could a teacher live like a millionaire? The Hermitage, that grand palace, is about a block and a half down the street. It's nice to have good neighbours.

I walk about a mile to school over the Neva River on the Troiksky Bridge. I took pictures of my walk in and will post them as soon as I have them. (Yes, they're taken on film. Yes, I tried digital. Yes, I hated it. Yes, I returned the camera and am back to film.)

There's so much to tell!! I was eaten alive by mosquitoes (remember, this city was built on a reclaimed swamp) and had a mish in my flat. That means MOUSE. I now have a katyonak to deal with the mish. The kitten is named Helena (MND) and called Lena (v. Russian). She's orange with green eyes. She was a street kitten, so is rather feisty and in need of socializing.

People have asked about birthday presents. I had a great idea. Shipping is SO expensive that we shouldn't spend anything on gifts. If you have a paperback (lightweight, shipping rate is lower for books) that you've read and think I'd like, why not pass that on? I love history, biographies, historical fiction, chick-lit...most anything that's well-written. I will very soon be out of reading material. St. Petersburg has a small teaching staff so my book-swapping is much more limited than it would have been in Moscow. My address is c/o AAS SP, US Embassy, Box L, 10040 Helsinki, Finland. (They'll drive it from the embassy to the Consulate here.)

Post some questions and I'll do my best to answer quickly. For now, I'd best be off before it rains.

Dos Vidanya!

14 July 2005

london bombings

Last Thursday it was dt day at school. We were in the middle of activity week, and had suspended our normal timetable. On Thursday, the students were divided into their houses (think Harry Potter) and were competing to create contraptions that would safely cushion an egg when it was dropped onto the sidewalk.

After break, the other teacher in Wellington came and told me that bombs had exploded on the tube. The senior students were talking about it so she'd managed to listen to the radio. No announcement was made to the students. A few had obviously heard something. I was fielding questions like, "Miss Christian, I've always wondered, just how far are we from London?" After first answering, "About an hour, S-----, so I'd guess about 60 miles," I called her back. I told her, "We're far enough from London to be safe where we are. Does that answer the question you were really asking?" All tension dropped from her shoulders and she grinned and nodded.

Parents called school with news to reassure students, but still we hadn't told them anything. I consulted with the other junior school teachers, but they didn't want to tell the students. I continued to have upset children, some in floods of tears. I reassured them as best I could. At the end of the day, when I had my own form back, I told them simply that there had been some explosions in London. I told them that there had been loads of parents calling in to say that people we loved were safe. I was able to tell one of my students that his mum was safe. Then, I told them that I didn't know what had really happened because I'd been with them all day. I encouraged them to talk to their parents about it. I didn't want them to be frightened by talk they might overhear in the carpark. They all left feeling safe that day. (Since we'd just finished a unit on life in England during WWII, a few were delighted by the idea that they might be evacuated. My denying any evacuation plans didn't damper their hopes.) On Monday, the head had a special assembly to talk about what happened.

I've struggled with the reactions in the media to this horrible event. There is a strong sentiment of "We did this better than the Americans." I heard several commentators commenting on how there was a feeling of panic during 9-11 that was conspicuously missing here. They talked about the war spirit that had returned. To my sensitive and biased ears, they seemed...proud and a little smug.

This is not only difficult for my patriotic heart to take (Ask anyone and they'll tell you that Americans are the most patriotic of all nationalities. Friends from abroad have marvelled at the number of flags they seen flying in the US. The number of patriotic songs we have-and that I can sing multiple verses of from memory-leaves them a little bewildered.) but it also confuses me. I was here in London on 9-11. I remember the outpouring of sympathy. Strangers, after inquiring about my accent, expressed their condolences. (Of course, there was also that Irish man who shouted at me that it was our own fault, that they had been fighting terrorism for years, that we, as a nation, were naive...) There was no mention at the time of how poorly we were coping.

I would like to point out a few things, merely to assuage my outrage and to fulfill my self-appointed role as ambassador to the world, repairer of reputations, defender of my country and plastic surgeon for the scars left by Ugly Americans. (That last title just came through. Rather chuffed with that one.)

  • This attack was not as visually gripping as the planes flying into the twin towers. Three of the four explosions happened underground. No one watched it. No one knew what had happened until it was over.
  • Far fewer people were killed and injured in this attack.
  • Since 9-11, we have been bracing for an attack. We've practiced what to do. On 9-11, no one expected anything like that to happen.

I am still sorting through all this. But, since so many have asked, I thought it worthwhile to share the bits I've sorted so far.

I'm safe. My friends are safe. The terrorists, home-grown by most accounts, have been identified on CCTV footage. Further terrorists are being searched for and arrested. The trains are a little slow and a bus driver did a quick walk-through of the bus before he let us board. I'm going in to London later this week and will ride the tube. Things really do seem to be back to normal.

So, that's the state of things here. Hope all is well with you!


07 July 2005

almost there...

My mind is already in Russia. As my students and I complete our last two weeks of school here in England, I spend my hours outside of class planning and dreaming of my next adventure.

I've recieved my class list for next year. The demographics are amazing. Of my 20 students,
* 7 are third graders and 13 are second graders.
*7 are boys and 13 are girls.
*1 is from the UK, 1 is from the US, and the rest are from Germany, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Israel, Korea, Japan, India, Estonia, Lithuania and Russia. What an international group!

I am so grateful for the warm, friendly welcome I've received from everyone at AAS. It makes me feel like I'm headed home! And speaking of home, the principal of AAS-SP e-mailed me this yesterday:

Now for housing, we have secured a three bedroom apartment for you. It is very nice. It is located just around the corner and down the street from our place. You will be about 20 minutes from the school, 3 minutes from the Field of Mars, 5 minutes from the Summer Garden, 5 minutes from the Hermitage, 5 minutes from the Church on the Spilled Blood, and one street from the Niva embankment. It is a very nice place.

You will have your own heating system as opposed to all of us who are on the city's heat. The only control we have is to open our windows. The apartment is furnished.

We have an official listing of things, but it is in Russian. Believe me, you will not be short anything when you arrive.

It's all pretty amazing, isn't it? Please join me in giving thanks for this opportunity that is set before me.



28 June 2005

Have you heard? There's a rumour in St. Petersburg!

Did anyone recognize those lyrics? They're from the opening number in the fabulous animated musical, Anastasia. (I'm not keen on Rasputin constantly decaying before my eyes, but the rest is brill!)

Why these lyrics, you ask. Well, the rumour is founded. I've been transferred from the Moscow AAS to the St. Petersburg AAS. It's a much smaller school. I'll be teaching a combined class of second- and third-graders. I'm very excited about this opportunity. There are many opportunities for me to develop a drama program for all of the students--grades K-12. I find that I like to teach primary school and direct upper school students. I should have the best of both now. The thought of teaching a multi-aged class is a little daunting, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.

St. Petersburg has always held a magic for me. It's a lovely, gracious city filled with history. I look forward to discovering it for myself--and to sharing it with you.


26 June 2005


Privet, my friends! I'm finishing up the term here in England and preparing for my move to Russia. I'm very excited about the adventures that lie ahead. This blog is for you--so that you can come along and share in the adventures. Please do.