Categories: "Russian life"

Safe and sound in Kazan

June 21st, 2012

I'm in my apartment in Kazan. My landlady brought the cable modem for the internet and I set it up, but it didn't work because there was no money on the account. Makes perfect sense. These things are all pre-paid in Russia. So I wandered to the nearby convenience store where there is a Qiwi bill paying machine. Popped 500 rubles in ($15), went home, and voilà internet access!

Of course, the Qiwi machine takes a percentage of your money. I'd better track down the provider's store if I want to do it cheaper next time.

These machines are pretty neat. You can pay for your phone, your internet... heck I could even pay for my World of Warcraft account... um... that is, if I had one. The machines are not quite as ubiquitous as ATMs, but they are pretty close. You can find them at most subway stations and many underground pedestrian passageways.

Why is there a ladder in my bathroom?

June 22nd, 2012

Because I need a place to dry my laundry, which ends up being on the shower curtain rod, which is higher than I can comfortable reach. If I'm putting something on a hanger, the reach is fine. Things like underwear and socks I can slingshot up there, but big things like my sheets have to be hung from above.


June 23rd, 2012

Since I don’t have a car here, and since I’m a complete tightwad, I end up usually taking public transport or walking. And one does a lot of walking. Here’s a summary of today’s walking, with thanks to Google Maps for being able to calculate distances.

Home to grocery store & back1.3 km
Apt to palace and back8.6 km
Apt to downtown & back3.2 km
Total:13.1 km

So, in ’Murrikan terms that is eight miles.

I also have new shoes, and apparently my socks were too thin yesterday, which explains why I have blisters on my feet. I can barely walk. Must have a safety pin around here somewhere. Gotta drain these bad boys because I've been invited to a two-day cookout. Can't be limiping everywhere I go.

American plans, Russian plans

June 23rd, 2012

In 2010 in Kazan at one of our student meetings, I met a Russian kid by the name of Danila. He made a good impression on me; we occasionally kept in touch by e-mail. In 2011 he came to the US on a temporary work visa to South Carolina. Although some of the people there were very kind to him, his employers ended up being jackasses, so in August I invited him to my place in Tempe where he slept on my couch for a month. He got to know Arizona, where everybody treated him well. He attended occasional classes at ASU when the instructors gave him permission as a guest, and he met some of my work acquaintances, most specifically Marina, her husband Billy, and their adorable children.

You know what’s weird? Danila really liked AZ. I mean, most people come to our state and detest the heat. Not Danila. Instead he hated our air conditioning. I assigned him some duties in my secondary office (for which I’m grateful, thanks, Danila!), but every once in a while he simply had to step out to warm up.

So... 2012... I return to Kazan, and his parents want to invite me to their home. This is actually a bit awkward for me. I mean, I didn’t require anything in return. I just wanted to give a Russian kid a chance to see people who weren’t jackasses. Still, from the parental point of view that makes perfect sense. If someone treated my son decently in a difficult situation, I would also want to return the favor.

So I accepted the invitation to their place for... two days. Ohmigoodness. I can hardly tell you how much that makes me flex my intercultural muscles. To spend two days with people I have never met... To put aside my list of tasks... To accept their control over my schedule... Ay-ay-ay... I’m serious. It takes a conscious mental readjustment for me. But Danila was a kid of good character. His family would probably be the same.

So Danila made arrangements to pick me up. I asked what time. He said around lunch time. Americans have lunch around noon, Russians have обед around 2:00. I asked for a more specific time. Danila was reticent to specify. I pushed. He said, “Well, twelve, maybe eleven.” I answered, “Okay, twelve o’clock, give or take an hour.” I would wait for the potential arrival over a two hour period. As long as I have a starting point and an end point, I’m okay.

But I must tell you, here I had made somewhat of a cultural error. Russians generally don’t worry about starting points and end points. Instead, you make a semi-tentative arrangement, and then on the day of the event you call each other to find out whether you still want to do it.

In my experience Russians never show up early. To my surprise, they showed up at 11:40 a.m. I really hadn’t expected them till one or two.

Later I found out that Danila’s mother had said to him as they left their home, “Danila, call Don to tell him we are on our way just in case he has made other plans.” Danila had answered, “Mama, we don’t need to do that. He won’t have made other plans.” Danila has learned something significant about American culture. Heck, when my Mom told me in November that she wanted me to go with her to the Canadian Tenors concert in April, I simply scheduled it in. Mom was buying tickets. If I cancelled, it would have caused some unpleasantness. That’s how Americans plan things... at least Americans of a certain class and profession and upbringing.

My next entries will tell you about my marvelous time with Danila and his family. Stay tuned: same Russki time, same Russki channel.


June 24th, 2012

Now I have to tell you about the garden here. Russians love their gardens. In the summertime, if a family has a dacha, they head out of town and plant as much as they possibly to prepare for winter. Danila's family actually has a private home just outside of Kazan, and they have enough land to do some serious gardening. And what do they grow? First off, they grow flowers. Russians love flowers! I keep saying ‘Russians,’ but most of what I'm saying here applies to the Tatars I know as well.

Danila's mom goes by Flyura, which I take to be the Russified form of fleur, which is French for ‘flower.’ Here are Flyura's flowers.

But really this is primarily a food garden. She grows strawberries, blueberries and currants, and then makes varenye out of them, a kind of syrupy jam (very tasty). Here is what a currant bush looks like.

What is a garden without sweet Russian cucumbers? Straight from the garden they are crunchy as an apple and have no bitter taste.

Here are the carrots.

And let's not forget the green house for starting delicate tomatos early.

She also grows a couple types of squash.

And now a few general shots.

And then I found the most curious plant that just grows wild around here. She says that the plant produces three-millimeter seeds that are very tasty.

She told me the leaves have a nice smell. I detected nothing. Perhaps if we dried them, rolled them as a cigarette and smoked them, then they would have a fairly distinct odor?