Monday, April 1, 2013

Tongue, “Gnomes,” Chocolate, and Other Craziness

I don’t even know where to begin. Over the past several weeks I’ve been memorized, horrified, and astonished by Mother Russia. So let’s start with the horrified: my host mother secretly fed me cow tongue! I felt like an innocent victim. I was just happily chewing my dinner when all the sudden she brings the bombshell down: I’ve been eating tongue for three straight nights. So of course after knowing that it was tongue, I could barely eat another bite without gagging. My mind is playing dirty tricks on me. Oh yes, and on a slightly unrelated note: the other day I payed 15 rubles to go to the bathroom in a Russian train station. I entered the stall door and lo and behold mud everywhere and simply a hole. no toilet. I guess I’m not a spoiled Southern Californian anymore. Life in Russia has truly taught me to appreciate the small comforts in America, like access to free relatively clean toilets instead of holes in the ground. 

Astonished: Well here’s two eyeopening tidbits about life in Russia that would not happen in America (at least hopefully not): 
  1. I am one of the lucky few on my study abroad program who’s blog has not been shut down by the Russian government. The funny thing is, the Russian government clearly doesn’t understand discreetness. While trying to access their blog posts, about five of my friends instead were forwarded to a webpage that actually said “This website has been shut down by the Российская Федерация (Russian Federation).” I am determined to stand strong, I will win and continue to write about my travels here :)
  2. Apparently there are several young Russian students (ages 7-12) who believe that if you eat too many chocolate candy bars, you will turn black. How do I know this? Two of my fellow study abroad friends, who live in a household with a kid, have told me that their little host brother or sister believed this. One of the children had even received the information from a teacher at school. Could you imagine the political correctness storm that would circulate around this in America?
Me at the Beer Tasting Event in Baltika Brewery
Fun Fact #476: In some restaurants and cafes in Russia, beer is actually cheaper than water. I’m not kidding. I may have mentioned that beer’s the most popular alcoholic beverage in Russia, so as to honor the favorite drink of the Russian people, my resident director arranged a tour of the Russian beer company Baltika for our weekly wednesday cultural excursion. Baltika may seem familiar to you because it is the #1 brand of beer in Europe, and it’s made at 11 different breweries around Russia. The tour itself was pretty awesome; I had never been inside a brewery before and it was amazing to see how many steps there is to the process of making a single bottle. The best part of the tour was the beer tasting extravaganza. We were able to drink about 30 flavors of baltika beer. My favorite were the fruity flavors of course, and afterwards we received a complementary beer mug. Cheers to a great day in Russia!

Me in Mikhailovsky Theater
And now it is time for me to retell one of the most bizarre experiences of my life in Russia thus far. Last Wednesday, our entire group ventured off to the infamous Russian opera "Eugene Onegin" (originally written by Pushkin) in the Mickhailovsky Theater. But I can’t really call what I watched Eugene Onegin. First off, the entire set design (costumes, furniture, walls, you name it) were in black and white. For a 19th century opera, there was an excessive use of refrigerators and washing machines. Oh, and not to mention the narrator of the opera was a little person who had a white, then black, then white again beard that was longer than himself. Btw, the Russian word for a little person is гном (pronounced gnome- like as in a garden gnome with a hard g sound). I can’t even make this stuff up. So you may ask, when exactly in this opera did I break into tears of laughter? Not when the little person got stuck inside a washing machine that was suspended in midair after the set failed to raise successfully. or when an actor picked up one of 50 jugs of milk on the set and poured it over the “dead” character lying inside a clock. Nope, I started laughing when the main character, Eugene Onegin, in the third act threw a fit of rage, began throwing knives at the floor and proceeded to pick up the litte person, drag him across the set, and literally throw him out of the window of the set.
Oh Russia, sometimes I don’t even know what to say. All I can do is take it in stride. 

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