Category Archives: History

Wait a minute…

One of the horse tamers

The Anchikov bridge, which crosses the Fontanka, is flanked by the Horse Tamers — four horse sculptures with their respective tamers. I usually pass them without giving a second look — Piter has spoiled me, and I no longer am amazed by beautiful sculptures, art, or architecture. However, the other day, one of my friends on the program told me that one of the horses has a person’s face in place of testicles. “Face balls!” he said.

Wait, face balls?

Yes, face balls.

Can you see it?

There are a lot of rumors surrounding who the face is supposed to be. One says that the face is the artist’s arch-nemesis. Others say that it’s Tsar Nicholas I. Some even say that it’s supposed to be Napoleon.

Just another reason why I’m loving it here.

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Filed under History, Photos, Rambling thoughts

All for the Front, All for the Victory

Because our grammar teacher decided to cancel class yesterday (class should never be held on a Saturday), Cornelia and I decided to take advantage of the extra free time to head over to the Museum of the Siege of Leningrad.

Exiting the Moskovskaya metro station, the environ leading up to the museum seemed depressingly appropriate for the museum we were about to see. Ice on the rooftops teetered precipitously over the tops of buildings, and ankle-deep, brown puddles engulfed the sidewalk. Grey, overcast skies and mountains of dirty, blackened snow. And there it was, the museum of the Leningrad Blockade, standing out like a tiny, bright flicker among its drab surroundings.

The Leningrad Blockade was one of the most destructive sieges of the 20th century, lasting from September 1941 until January 1944. Hitler tried to starve the city into submission – residents received 1/4 lb of saw-dust filled bread a day. No heat, no water, no electricity. By the time the siege was lifted, close to 700,000 people had died from disease and hunger.

While it was a small museum (there was only one room), it was quite poignant and moving. For me, the most vivid part of the museum was the film they showed – a black-and-white archival footage of essentially living-death during the blockade: mass graves, and hardened people walking around frozen corpses that had become a part of every-day life.

At the Artillery Museum - a copy of the diary of Tanya Savicheva

They moved Tanya’s diary to the Piskarovskoe Memorial Cemetery. It reads:

Zhenya died on the 28th of Dec at 12:30 in the morning, 1941
Grandmother died on the 25th of January at 3:00 in the afternoon, 1942
Leka died on the 5th of march at 5 in the morning, 1942
Uncle Vasya died on the 13th of April at 2:00 after midnight, 1942
Uncle Lesha on the 10th of May at 4:00 in the afternoon, 1942
Mother on the 13th of May at 7:30 in the morning, 1942
Savichevs died.
Everyone died.
Only Tanya is left.

Overall, a sobering experience.

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Stay at home in the kitchen where you belong, and make me my borsht.

On Thursdays, ACTR holds a 90-minute Russian-American student conversation group. My current strategy of latching onto my tutor is not exactly working out – as in, I’m not successfully leeching her friends – so I saw this group as a window of opportunity to find out more potential Russians to ambush. The topic of the first meeting was Love, in honor of good ol’ St. Valentine’s Day. Discussion was split into 2 parts – 1st 45 minutes in English, and the 2nd half in Russian. For the English- speaking portion, it was mainly the American students politely discussing the general trend of marriage, how many marriages dissolve into divorce, tradition, etc. When it became our turn to ask about Russian custom, two opposing factions quickly emerged. First off, there were people there who definitely were not students and must have been well into their 50’s (at least, that’s how old they looked. For all I know, they could just be really leathery grad students.) The question of “are there stay-at-home fathers in Russia?” came up and one particularly scrappy, weathered old curmudgeon looked around indignantly at the preposterous idea, scoffed, and said that he only saw stay-at-home-fathers in American movies…basically implying that in America, men are obviously wimps and that Russian men are robust, strapping bucks. The younger girls, who I’m assuming were more around my age, were simply not having it and vehemently disagreed, claiming that because women were getting more and more successful, it was not so strange to see a man helping out around the house. Scrappy old man seemed quite offended at the idea that women could be as successful or even more so than men, and said something along the lines of, “Men are strong in Russia,” or at least, that’s what I think he muttered under his breath.

This somewhat heated discussion in broken English forces me to ask why feminism, or at least a stronger sense of self among women, isn’t stronger in Russia. Surprisingly, the women’s movement in Russia has a longer history than the western feminist movement, with the first wave appearing right after the abolition of serfdom in 1861. The Soviet era squashed things for a bit (60 years), but feminism came back after Glasnost and Perestroika. And now, there are nearly 600 women’s organizations, with human rights, reproductive rights, and access to education as their goals, just to name a few. Unfortunately, as witnessed in the small debate at Discussion group, stereotype and tradition are difficult to overcome, not to mention the fact that gender equality officially disappeared in early 2000 (no more formal government structure to protect women’s rights). While more people might be aware of what rights there are among women, this awareness remains mainly in the educated, upper class.

All for victory.

I have no conclusion, and I am not terribly optimistic either. What brought about the western feminist movement won’t necessarily work here, because, not to be obvious, Russia isn’t the west. However, things are improving, albeit at a snail-slow pace…kind of fits into the general pattern of Russian life that I am beginning to notice: everything here takes much longer than it normally would.

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Filed under Cultural differences, History, Politics

Picture Vomit

Today, I acted like a typical Asian tourist. Mom, Dad, I took a ton of pictures for you.

Спас на крови - this is the site where Alexander II was murdered.

Slightly funny/morbid story. There were 2 assassination attempts on Alexander II. One assassin tried to throw a bomb into Alexander’s carriage, but the bomb exploded on the assassin. Alexander stopped the carriage and was giving the dying assassin a piece of his mind when the second assassin threw the bomb that killed him. Moral of the story: If someone’s trying to kill you, run.

The mother-f'in Hermitage. My inner nerd geeked out.

Herzen State Pedagogical University

Bad Ass

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Such great heights

Back in 1703, Peter the Great decided to build a city on a rotten, fetid swamp – “by nature we are fated here to cut a window to Europe,” as Pushkin gracefully paraphrased Peter’s original words (which were not nearly as moving, and were more along the lines of: Here shall be a town.) Thousands of Swedes and Russians died in the process of building a city on an uninhabitable marsh, but ho! a wooden fortress was erected, and St. Petersburg was successfully founded.

Couple of years later (250 some years, I believe), someone invented the St. Petersburg metro. To compensate for the fact that Piter was built on a swamp, most of the stations were built far below the ground (fun fact: the metros also serve as a nice nuclear bomb shelter.) As a faux resident of DC, I’m used to metros and the sweaty, shoving throngs of people that come along with it. But as someone who is deathly, and I emphasize deathly, afraid of heights, I can’t get over the depth and the rapid descent of the escalator into the metro. (For other fellow acrophobians, closing your eyes does not help.) However, after the 3 minute elevator ride, I was surprised to find the metro to be very clean and pleasantly decorated. It didn’t even smell strange, which unfortunately, is not always the situation in the DC metros.

An Ice Memorial for the Siege of Leningrad, located near the Kanal Griboedova Metro Station

It’s only day two, and I’m doing my best to shake the role of the cowardly American tourist. I’ve also realized that after 7 semesters, I don’t know how to say anything in Russian. However, I am not completely down-trodden – I successfully asked a babushka for directions. And while she might have politely laughed at me as I stammered out my request, it’s better than being hopelessly lost.

One of many, many churches. Russians love churches.

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Filed under History, Rambling thoughts