Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In my embarrassment over my self-reflective post, I want to push it further down the page and give you updates on some of the more ridiculous aspects of my life in Russia.

Yes, MC Hammer is coming to Petersburg. I really should stop this blog entry here, because this is the only thing that really matters about my time here. I am doing my best to get tickets.

2. I joined "Planet Fitness" a couple of days ago, which is the Russian equivalent of an upscale fitness center. I decided that walking around the city wasn't cutting it as far as exercise goes, and bliny are not the most healthy of foods. I was anticipating a normal gym where I pay and am then let go to exercise how I see fit. I found out this was not true with the Planet Fitness family. Before being allowed to exercise, I had to make an appointment with the on-site sports doctor. This meeting, which was held in a mixture of his broken English and his broken Russian, was the most intense physical I have ever received, the highlight of which was the doctor diagnosing me with "mild scoliosis" (these were two of the random English words he knew). After all of my various diagnostic tests, he recommended me certain exercises that I should do to target my overall health goal. One of these is pilates. No thanks, Dr. Slav, I'll stick to the treadmill and weights.

3. The other day, I ate bull tongue. My house mother walked in my room and said, in Russian, that she was preparing something. I say "something" because I couldn't make out what she said in Russian. When I asked her what she said, she simply pointed to her tongue, smiled, and said "tasty." It all happened so fast. In actuality, it wasn't too bad. Just imagine a very tender steak, except that it is bull tongue.

More to come, but I have to go jog and lift weights at the gym.

Seems Vaguely Appropriate

To My Friends

The chain of golden days and nights
Is still your heritage from Deity,
And, still, the languid maidens’ eyes
Are turned to you as well intently.
So, play and sing, friends of my years!
Lose very quickly passing evening,
And, at your heedless joy and singing,
I will be smiling through my tears.
-Aleksandr Pushkin

The Russians are crazy about this guy.

1.21 Giggawatts of Self-Reflection

I have come to a very painful realization. I am currently on something that could be described as an "existential journey."

I am very averse to describing periods in those kinds of terms. I have never enjoyed the feeling that to be considered a part of the American Intelligensia you have to be painstakingly self-reflective and read Vonnegut over your morning granola. Despite this, I have done what many people have do in challenging times: I have become that which I hate the most.

While I have been in Russia, I have been very aware of...myself. Seriously, it hurts me to say that. I would usually chalk sentences like that up to English majors and their ilk. None the less, I have found myself learning more about myself here than I have about any other topic, though I think that I may be saying that simply to attempt to justify to myself why I still can't speak this absurd language.

Since I have devoted myself unwillingly to the concept of my having an "existential journey," I will do it justice by saying that this is not limited to me simply learning that I really miss grilled meat (which I do) or that I long to shop at Wal-Mart (the American dream, in my mind). I feel that by existing in Russia's society as an outlier and, at best, a novelty, I have really learned more about how I exist within my home society. I realize this is all very abstract, and I expect very few people to read this and truly understand what I am saying (not because I think I am thinking on some higher plane, but mostly because I am rambling).

To be frank, I feel that the best aid in me becoming acquainted with myself (друг, not, знакомый (After reading this, I realize this is a very niche joke and that there may be, at max, three people who read this, understand it, and barely laugh.)) has been to get away from the society that I have existed in that has helped make me the person that I am. I am thankful for the people in my life that have influenced me and I fully embrace the cultural and societal oddities about Mississippi that have made me the person I am.

With that said, to get away from those people and influence, to leave behind my structures of support, has left me with the task of supporting myself, which is a big chore. It has been very beneficial for me, though. I feel I know more about myself now, and, as they say (to be truthful, I don't know who says this), knowing is half of the battle.

Where I think that I differentiate from our culture's popular obsession with self-reflection is that I am not in an existential flux or having a crisis in which I have found a new me that I can't reconcile with the previous me. Far from it, to be exact. At the end of the day, the Harrison that was in Oxford is the exact same Harrison that is in Russia, just nine hours ahead of time (Back to the Future?).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't Cry for Me, America

While living in a different country, I have learned that it is the little victories that make being here worthwhile. When someone approaches you on the street and asks you for you directions and you accurately tell them where to go in Russian, or maybe when you receive your food at a restaurant and notice that you got exactly what you asked for; these are some small victories. I recently achieved one of these small victories: I know the cause of global warming. Yesterday, I came to the conclusion that Russia, in an act of defiance over the U.S. supporting Georgia, is stealing all of the world's cold weather and concentrating it in St. Petersburg. Obviously, president turned environmental activist Al Gore has never visited Russia. If so, he would have realized that global warming would be all too convenient.

In all seriousness, it is getting cold here. The weather maxes out in the high 40s, and the sky has already abandoned the prospect of sunshine, favoring a dull gray that fits the cityscape all too suitably. Thankfully, the Russians have fought their unfortunate climate by making their buildings stand out. For example, the building below is my school's campus. I study in one of the complex's buildings that is located about thirty yards behind Smolny Cathedral. It is no Paris-Yates, but it definitely brightens your day while walking to school.

Though the weather has been a bit of a downer, it has picked up into the 60s this week, which veritably changes the way I view life. Today, after class, a couple of my classmates and I went walking through a park near the school, and we quickly found ourselves laying on the grass with all of our outerwear off ("sun's out; gun's out" rule applied). St. Petersburg can carry a very stilted demeanor when mixed with cold weather. The wind bites and so does the city. This immediately changes with the weather, though. Today, as we were in the park, not only did the city seem more inviting, but the people also did. People on the street occasionally break into a smile, a luxury in Russia reserved for private company only.

I am actually writing this while sitting outside of "The Other Side," one of the city's ex-pat bars and my favorite haunt. Not only do they have free wi-fi (a rare find in this city) but they also have CHIPS AND SALSA...CHIPS AND SALSA. It can't be reiterated enough, because this has become a very important comfort food for me. So, while in St. Petersburg, I can facebook all of my people in Oxford, hear people speak English, and eat chips and salsa, all while listening to music exclusively from the United States (everything from one of the songs from "Jungle Book" to Feist to "We Didn't Start the Fire").

I'll post more later (more expedient than last time) because the dinner crowd is rolling in and I know my kazyaika is waiting on me.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I'll expand on this later, but for now:

1. My flight was delayed in Houston, so I missed my flight in London, waited at Heathrow and was rerouted to Helsinki...Finland. Awesome.

2. Missed the CIEE bus and ended up having to take a $200 cab ride into the middle of nowhere with a driver who spoke no English, and didn't really care for my broken Russian. We ended up getting absurdly lost in the countryside around St. Petersburg and I ended up finally finding our destination at 1:00 a.m., after a 2 hour ride.

3. The Militsia (Russian Police Force) does spot checks of people they think are terrorists. These spot checks employ racial profiling, and end up being little more than the police trying to take a "fine" from you that goes straight to their pockets. One of my administrators and my kazyaika (house mother) has told me that I look Georgian and will be routinely spot checked. The protocol for if this happens (seriously): speak only in English, point to my phone, and repeatedly say "U.S. CONSULATE."

4. Despite all of this, St. Petersburg is amazing, my language skill have dramatically improved, my house mother is terrific, and I am loving being abroad.

In the next two or three days, I should have a legit post up, but I am busy right now and just got access to the internet.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Simply put, I, Harrison Ford (non-actor, except for an amateur production of "Charlotte's Web" that had minimal box-office returns), will be living and studying in St. Petersburg, Russia this fall in an attempt to fill my study abroad requirement for my International Studies major at the University of Mississippi. On August 26th, with Tropical Storm Fay's blessing, I will be flying out of the opulent Jackson-Evers International Airport and making my way towards the former Soviet Union.

In the spirit of Socialism, I believe in the redistribution of knowledge and have mined (read: plagiarized) the internet to provide you, my dedicated readers, with a cursory knowledge of the city. The following summary of St. Petersburg can be found at http://www.dataart.com/st-petersburg/default.htm .



St Petersburg is a relatively young city, by both Russian and European standards, and was only founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great. Despite its short life so far, Petersburg has a rich and exciting history. Three centuries have past since its first structures were raised on the banks of the Neva River, but during this period Saint Petersburg has been forming as the "eternal city", whose beauty and harmony are unrivalled. Saint Petersburg sense of its own identity owes to its origins and to the interweaving of myth and reality throughout its history.


Saint Petersburg was founded by Russian Tsar Peter the Great the Northern War of Russia with Sweden. May 16 1703 is seemed to be the date of St.Petersburg foundation. The famous Peter and Paul fortress (see livecam image: ) with the church in name Saints Peter and Paul was laid in the Zayachy Island on the delta of the Neva River. After a year, in 1704, the first Russian sea fortress Kronstadt was constructed in the Finish Gulf. In 1710 the Capital of Russia was transferred to St.Petersburg from Moscow. In 1914, during the First World War, the city was renamed into Petrograd. Because of the October Coup on November 1917 the political system in Russia was changed and the mess in economy followed this event. A lot of national treasures were sold out or destroyed. In 1924 Bolsheviks renamed the city into Leningrad. The name of Saint Peter was given back to the city in 1991. The Blokada (the Siege) of Leningrad during the Great Patriotic War was the most tragic period for the city. It lasted from September 1941 till January 1944, about 900 days and nights. During the Blokada about a million of civilians died of hunger and were killed by bombs. The monuments of history and culture and the suburban palace complexes were ruined. The restoration works started right after the war and are continuing nowadays. Despite of the tragic ages of its history, Saint Petersburg was and remains one of the treasures of world art and architect. Upon the decision of UNESCO St.Petersburg has been recognized as a Monument of the World's Culture.

St.Petersburg Geography

A city of northwest Russia on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland. Saint-Petersburg, having the total area of 1440 square kilometers, is the most important and largest city in Russia after Moscow. It has a very favorable geographical position, which predetermined the city's life as an important center of transport and trade communications. Saint Petersburg's climate is maritime, with temperatures averaging -8 deg C ( 18 deg F) in January , and a pretty cool summer, with average July temperatures of 17 deg C ( 63 F)

St.Petersburg "the Venice of the North"

. St Petersburg is sometimes called the “Northen Venice”. Today the city stands on 42 island. The main water way of the city is the Neva River and it adds much to the beauty of the city. It is impossible to imagine St Petersburg without it bridges, canals and embankments. The city was founded in the mouth where Neva spills its waters into the Gulf of Finland. It was the first Russian port on shores of the Baltic Sea. There are 40 rivers, canals with a total length of 217.5 km., nearly 400 bridges to cross them

St.Petersburg Architecture, Culture

St.Petersburg is a huge architectural city. Saint-Petersburg is often referred to as "the Palmyra of the North", which emphasizes the attraction of the city's architecture and harmony. There are many architectural masterpieces in Saint-Petersburg. The city centre is awash with magnificent palaces and majestic cathedrals, spacious squares and avenues. Upon the decision of UNESCO St.Petersburg has been recognized as a Monument of the World's Culture.

There are about 190 libraries in the city, nearly 80 theatres, including the world-known Mariinsky opera and ballet theatre, 20 concert halls, nearly 100 museums (such as the famous Hermitage, the Russian Museum and the summer residences in Petrodvorets, Pavlovsk and Pushkin).

Now the city named as a Culture Capital of Russia and plays an essential part in Russian scientific life.

St.Petersburg Industry

Saint-Petersburg also is a huge commercial city with ports and factories, stations where Russian energy and European standards make a perfect match. It is the centre of science and technology, where the best traditions of national education are carefully preserved and being developed within schools and universities. St.Petersburg is a historical scientific center of Russia, where the 1st Russian University and Russian Academy of Sciences were founded 275 years ago.

Saint Petersburg, with its skilled labor force and old industrial traditions, is a highly diversified manufacturing center noted for the production of power-generating equipment and electrical goods, general industrial machinery, electronic components, chemicals and allied products, rubber goods, and plastics. The city is also a major shipbuilding center and seaport.

Saint Petersburg has five major railroad stations and is connected by rail with foreign cities as well as with all parts of Russia. Local transportation is provided by a subway system and by bus and streetcar lines.


To provide you with some visual insight to the city, I've posted a handful of pictures that will hopefully help you to imagine what Russia's "window to Europe" looks like.

This is the nightview in the inner city along the Neva River that highlights the staggering beauty of the city.

A few views of The Hermitage, the iconic St. Petersburg museum that plays host to the art of Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rubens, Mattise, Rembrandt, and Monet, to name a few of the artists featured in the collection's holdings that number around three million pieces.

The exterior and interior of The Mariinsky Theatre, seat of all that is classical Russian Opera.

A bear...in St. Petersburg...probably drinking vodka. It doesn't get much more stereotypical than this.