Sunday, April 21, 2013

Holy Cow only a Month Left!!

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I have been living in Russia for approximately 3 months now. But now that the snow is beginning to thaw and the ice is slowly melting, (yes it is mid April- yes it did snow 5 days ago) spring is in the air and anticipation for the beautiful gardens and the sun is building. Here’s the ironic part through: spring is in the air, but a perpetuating theme of darkness seems to be following our small group everywhere. 

For starters, when the snow finally disappears off the Russian streets, a whole new world appears. Today, I looked out the window of my classes per usual, and BAM I saw it: a running track located right next to my classes. Never noticed it was there... running for exercise is now in my near future. On a more morbid note, my friend passed by a frozen cat that had been covered in the snow throughout the winter. According to our study abroad program, finding corpses at the end of winter is not uncommon. From time to time, even human corpses are uncovered when the thaw begins... I have to convince myself that this is real life sometimes. 

Imagine a museum room covered with jars like these- Kunstkamera
And then there are the times that we ourselves search out the morbid. This past weekend we visited the St. Petersburg Ethnography museum, more famously known as Kunstkamera, the oldest museum in St. Petersburg. The original museum was the brainchild of Tsar Peter the Great, which speaks to how bizarre Peter must have been during his lifetime. The main exhibit of the museum is host to deformed baby animals and human fetuses. I can only say that it was more than a bit disturbing. Some of the fetuses were given names such as “monster” and “cyclops.” I’m not even kidding. Some of these little unborn babies were given the name monster. You may be asking: what was the purpose for building this museum? Well back in the 1700’s Russians still believed that deformed babies (with multiple limbs, one eye, spinal chord issues, etc.) occurred because a witch had put a hex on the mother. Tsar Peter wanted to show the Russian people that this was not the case, that deformations occurred throughout varying steps in the mother’s own womb. 

On a less horrific note, several of my friends and I went to visit the second most important monastery in Russia: Alexander Nevsky Monastery. To be honest, I was a underwhelmed by the monastery after visiting the colossal monastery in Sergiev Posad near Moscow, but the cemetery was definitely the most memorable part. In the cemetery, the famous writer Fyodor Dostoevsky is buried alongside the renowned composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky and the Russian painter Shishkin. 

Raskolnikov's apartment 
entering Raskolnikov's sketchy abode
Last, but certainly not least, my resident director arranged a tour of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. If you’ve read the book, you probably noticed that Dostoevsky drew a a very intricate description of the novel’s setting. Because of this, scholars of Dostoevsky know exactly where all the major events of the novel took place- about 15 minutes away from my university in St. Pete. But, like most experiences in Russia, this tour took a turn toward the sketchy. As the tour guide handed over the keys to the Raskolnikov’s apartment (main character in Crime and Punishment) she informed us that we would be going alone. Alright red flags, why? because the neighbors have gotten aggressive with her in the past. Apparently the neighbors are some shady Russians. So we had to tread with caution up the decrepit apartment staircases. Well, we all decided to take our chances, and we made it all the way without incident. We unlocked the door and then... there were two more flights of staircases. I soon figured out that Raskolnikov had lived in the attic, an attic that could only be reached by passing through 2 different sets of bolt locked doors. Now let’s fast forward to Raskolnikov’s room. Just kidding it was more like a rat invested haven with barely enough light protruding through the holes in the ceiling to see the person in front of you. I accidentally touched a pipe in the room; it was slimy. I washed my hands at least 30 times a day for a week afterwards. All in all, I’m alive and I want to read Crime and Punishment again. Thanks St. Pete for another truly memorable day!

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