Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"You will be fumigated at 10am tomorrow."

Quote #1: After reading and singing a love song by the Russian version of Frank Sinatra, our professor asked us if our hearts knew how to love. When one guy said that he was not sure, she asked the rest of us if we believed him. "Do you believe him? How can he not know if he can love? Do you believe him? Oh, psh psh. You believe him because you are Americans. We are Russians here; we love the truth."

St. Catherine's Catholic Church / Католическая церковь Святой Екатерины

Tonight we attended St. Catherine's for the Russian language version of Ash Wednesday. Aside from the fact that three of the four presiding priests mumbled the little Russian I could understand, it was a beautiful service within a beautiful church marking the beginning of Post, the forty-day journey back to the cross before the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter.

"Whereas Western Churches hold Easter sunrise services, in Russian Orthodox Church Easter services last all through Saturday night. The congregation gathers in the church or cathedral on Saturday evening and takes part in an Easter vigil commemorating the buried Christ. Orthodox churches in Russia have an inner sanctuary away from the reach of worshipers, and only to the access of the priest. On this day, the door is closed till midnight but at the stroke of midnight, the priest opens the door and comes out saying "Christ is risen! Christ is risen! Christ is risen!" and after hours of silent anticipation, the worshippers rely back “He is risen indeed!"

(from a website about Russian traditions)

In Russian Catholic Churches, the dry, gray ashes are also sprinkled on the top of your head rather than drawn onto your forehead. Communion is taken without hands and is even dipped in the wine for you before being put on your tongue.

Quote #2: "There is a lot of corruption in the education system to get into university. For example, if you were my children...well, not my children...but my students, and I had you for eleven years in school, then when you took the exam [one chance only per year] to get into university, I would want to help you! So now they remove the students and put them in another school so the teacher won't help them cheat. There is a lot of cheating."

2. Paper Towels vs. Toilet Paper & Doing Laundry in Russia

Quote #3: "And here, across from the Neva River, is the KGB building. [Someone tries to say in class that they thought it was the FSB now.] No, no. it just changed its name. It's still right there. Same building, same place; different name. Oh, here. Let me see your map. Hmm...well, they didn't put it on the tourist map, but believe me, it's there."

As with many other things here, everything is the same, but very, very different. The yokes of the eggs here are more yellowish than golden-orange. The sour cream ("smetana") is at least a quarter fat. The butter ("masla") is more like the consistency of our bricks of cream cheese, but greasy and also probably more than a quarter fat. And when you buy a seemingly obvious package of toilet paper (the 4-roll kind), it somehow turns out to be two, not four rolls...of paper towels. For some reason, Russians use paper towels with the same height and width as two toilet paper rolls stacked on top of each other. But, as my roommate said, I guess now we have two multi-purpose rolls of paper.

We were fumigated today. Apparently, other students have had bugs ranging from bed bugs to roaches. We have no experiences of anything that horrifying...yet. Thankfully we were in class during this time, but we feared during our mid-day break that we'd return to puddles of chemicals haphazardly seeping into the floorboards or that we'd have to open the windows in our room to air out the toxic molecules in the air.

Surprisingly, the room hardly seemed to be chemically-altered in any way (I'm sure Mike could explain more scientifically, of course), so I decided to finally do laundry--a feat for which I needed enough energy. Here are the qualifications for doing laundry in the dormitory/hostel:
  • Bring your own detergent. They only really sell powder here, by the way. None of this modern (and efficient, and economical, and so on) liquid-y junk.
  • Stock up on 5 ruble coins, which are worth almost as little as kopecks, which are basically less valuable than a grain of salt. The machine mysteriously only takes 5 ruble coins.
  • Remain in the laundry room for the entire length of the excursion. Washers and dryers sporadically turn themselves off, or worse--someone takes out your clothes and puts them wet on the dirty table.
  • The dryer only goes for 32 minutes, but if you quickly insert another 30 rubles, then it can go for an hour. I do not know why it does not go for 64 minutes instead. Don't ask why, just accept -- the motto of living in Russia.
  • Do not close the door to the washer before you have inserted your clothes. It locks and will not open for the next 40 minutes, even if there is nothing being washed in there other than the rusting metal inside. It basically just shakes and swirls around laughing at you for the entire wash period. I did this on my first try, and even tried so hard to pry open the door that soapy water spilled out. Whoops.

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