Trick Fountains of the Peterhof Palace (July 10)

Peterhof is a summer country house of the Russian imperial family modeled on the Palace of Versailles.  My favorite thing about the palace and gardens  is the surprise and trick fountains. Peter liked to take his guests in ten-fifteen pound dresses and powdered wigs on walks through the grounds where little fountains would suddenly grow to cover the walkway.  Or maybe when a gazebo bench was sat on, water would pour off the roof and trap his guests inside.  Now these trick fountains are the major attraction for younger visitors.  Some spend their entire day hopping in the water of a trick fountain.

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Club Cosmonaut in SPb (July 9)

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One fantastic coincidence that has occurred so far on my trip (and likely the best ever) was Robert Babicz on tour at Club Cosmonaut in St. Petersburg. Robert Babicz is a German electronic house and acid house producer that has become one of my favorites. He doesn’t tour in the United States much and getting to see him definitely made a few friends jealous. It was also awesome to be in a club with a crowd that attended specifically to see him so the audience was particularly high energy. Jess, Alex, and Tamara, our fixer also attended with me. He most certainly and endlessly rocked face taking us through his major house hits and transitions through deep acid beats. I’m glad members of the team came with me and had a good time.

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July 8th: Two Holidays to Celebrate :)

One of us has a birthday today.  Sophie Kosar turned 19 and we went to our favorite Russian pies restaurant Stollie to celebrate the occasion.  С днём рождения Софи 🙂

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Dunkin’ Donuts and Deal Making: A Moscow Minute

This past weekend was a whirlwind tour of the biggest, and my new favorite, city in Europe: Moscow. Rather than giving you a full minute-by-minute overview, however, I want to tell my Dunkin’ story.

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Today We Are Visiting Fedor, Rodion, and Sonia (July 7)

Every city has famous literary addresses.  In St. Petersburg the most famous are those associated with Fedor Dostoyevsky and his best known novel Crime and Punishment. Marina Uvarova, one of the researchers from the Museum of Dostoevsky, led our tour of the neighborhood where Dostoevsky lived when he was writing the novel about a student obsessed with his murderous theory.

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When you’re smiling (July 7th) :)

When you’re smilin’….keep on smilin’
The whole world smiles with you 🙂

Who is smiling on this bus?

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My First Date in Russia! (July 6)

Today was a great day! I started the morning by showing up to the RIGHT room for class for the FIRST time this week. In my largely Korean/Chinese-middle aged-men class, a new student arrived! An americansky from New Mexico! Who knew people actually lived in New Mexico? Buttttt I’ll take it! After a successful morning, I ventured over to Nevskii Prospekt which is always an ordeal because the bus is usually full of grown smelly men who have never heard of the words ‘personal’ or ‘space’- let alone the two words put together… BUT today my bus was just full of children with mullets, (which always makes me happy) who on their way to a field trip. When I got to the Aurora Theater on Nevskii, my next challenge was overcome when I asked the worker for 3 tickets to the Selena Gomez movie, Monte Karlo. And I say ‘challenge overcome’ because a) I actually left with tickets and b) when I asked the worker for them, she didnt look at me as though I had the word ‘AMERICAN’ tattooed to my forehead (and if you’ve heard my russian accent, you;d understand why this was a BIG moment!).

Later this evening was my date to the Aurora with my host Momma! And by date I mean Me, Raisa, Megan, Natasha (Raisa’s Granddaughter), Sasha, and Jes. It was just a quaint little date for 6! …7 if you include Selena Gomez. And disclaimer- I left it up to my host Momma to choose the movie and in her words ‘I really want to see that movie’…so we did. Allllll 6 of us!

Although I’d love to just take my host Momma on dates all the time, there was a point to this.. My research project focuses on the differences between the power of cinema between Soviet Times and now. My documentary has a focus on the movie goer experience and their feelings towards cinema but also, the rich history of the Aurora Theater, as it is a theater that resonates in the hearts of St. Petersburgians.

For my documentary I got to film Raisa traveling to and from the cinema and conducted an interview after the film. The highlights of my footage include: the creepy looks I got from people who thought I was just stalking an old lady, Raisa blowing me kisses as we walk down the street, Raisa telling me that she liked Monte Karlo but her favorite movie is Gone with the Wind. She really just cant get any cuter.

A big thanks to Sasha and Jes for being there for me today! To Megan, for being such a trooper of a partner which includes her bringing her backpack. To Natasha, you were a great surprise interview! To Raisa, for being the best Host Momma I could hope for. And lastly, to whoever stuck around long enough to read this HUGE post.



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The Sapsan High Speed Train (July 5)

The Sapsan high speed train was something different and new. In the US we aren’t used to having particularly great public transportation outside of cities. The Sapsan connects St.Petersburg and Moscow, and is a new addition to Russia’s rail system. The ride between the cities is a little under 4 hours for what used to be an overnight trip. The high speed rail is smooth and the interior would make Amtrak jealous! The train is named after the Peregrine Falcon (the Russian word for it is Sapsan) and travels at a top speed of 200km/hr.  The Sapsan is a sign that Russia is going places.

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The public transit in Russia is impressive, not only the Sapsan, but great metro systems in both cities that are fast and timely. In Washington DC we are used to waiting 5-15 minutes for a train but in Moscow or St. Peter we wait less than 2 minutes between trains. We definitely hope to ride it again someday.

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Sampling the Russian Radio

Since my iPod made the fantastic decision on Friday to delete all of its contents, I have been forced to put my mobil’nik headphones to good use and listen to Russian radio. I guess my iPod’s digital peacing out has actually been a blessing in disguise—now I get to explore St. Petersburg through a different medium from canals and convoluted bus routes. Plus, apparently all the cool kids keep their cell radios on permanently. So.

If you are willing to put up with the lamentable sound quality of the headphones, 106.3 (Listen Record) plays legitimate trance mixes. That’s definitely not something we get on public radio in the US.

It surprised me enough to hear the Backstreet Boys while I was waiting for the elevator in my apartment building, but when I heard “Bye Bye Bye” on the same channel three hours later, I realized I now have absolutely no way to defend Russian popular taste from accusations of it being stuck in the 1990s. The culprit was Love Radio 105.3, which is essentially like DC’s Hot 99.5 but, as far as I can tell, without the trashy hosts and with more selection (i.e. they play more than eight songs an hour). However, since they play a fair share of Nyusha, I can forgive the DJs for the N*Sync.

Then there are the channels that play the type of Russian pop songs that no one without an XXL-size love for this culture would ever want to listen to. This includes the ballads, the bells that sound like snowflakes (they’re really not helping the Russia-is-always-cold stereotype), the Grigory Leps-style growling, and just generally awful lyrics. Classic.

105.9, or Radio Monte Carlo, plays a funny mix of house, classical guitar, and French Bossa Nova. I really, desperately want to see the demographic this is aimed at. But there is a channel for everyone: Europop, hip-hop, some weird American soft-rock/pseudocountry station I can’t really wrap my head around since I have never heard these songs even at home, classical music, talk shows, and last but not least—a thrash metal station. Which, combined with the stereo quality, was not all that pleasant.

Regardless of my own musical tastes, however, it has been a lot of fun and a great learning experience to listen to the radio here. I am impressed with the variety of genres available and the relatively few commercials. Perhaps it seems like an odd way to observe a country and its economy, but it would be interesting to watch what happens to Russian radio in this respect as the country progresses into the next decade. If nothing else, hopefully they will get rid of the Backstreet Boys.

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A Love Locked Forever

I cross the bridge over reka Moyka near the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It is mid-evening in St. Petersburg, and the sun shines horizontally through the city. There are couples leaning against the railings, mothers pushing strollers, and nearby an older woman speaks into a bullhorn trying to lure passengers onto a nearby sightseeing boat. Moving with the crowds across the wooden planks of the bridge, I notice padlocks, in all shapes, sizes and colors, fastened to the metal bars of the bridge. I look closer and notice names, handwritten in permanent marker, scratched across each lock. There are hundreds, each one locked tight onto the metal railings of the bridge.

I’ve been told that seeing a bride in Russia is good luck. This is a fairly superstitious culture; but considering the number of brides I’ve seen since arriving here, I should start playing the lottery. It might be the season for marriage (we are in the height of the white nights), or it might be that I’ve been frequenting iconic locations in this city, but it has been strange seeing so many unions.

Last Saturday, I was in Novgorod, an old medieval town three hours by bus south of St. Petersburg. As I crossed the bridge from the new side of town to the old Kremlin, I saw a bride and groom in the act of locking one of these padlocks to the side of the bridge. A crowd encircled the two and cheered as they took the key, and together, threw it over the side of the bridge into the river below.

Throwing the keys into the river.

In Russia, the word замок not only translates to lock, but also castle. I’ve been told that the lock is a new tradition, taken from Italy (although some claim it originated in China), that ensures a healthy and long marriage. A Russian friend of mine explains it is more for the bride, but doesn’t offer any more explanation at that.

I’m curious, is thinking of love as a padlock affixed to a bridge, the key sunk to the bottom of the river, a healthy analogy? Is this what love is?



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