For example, best question about America I wasn't able to answer:
In the showers after practice, somebody asked me what the going rate of "grass" is over in the states. The slang is the same as ours. I, being not quite an expert on the subject, tried to think it out. Somehow I came to about $20 an oz, and since there's 28 grams in an ounce, I just rounded to a dollar a gram.
Footnote with graphic imagery (you're warned): It's not custom here to shower naked after practice. Happens, but rarely, most of the time we're in our underwear. Those who have ever been on a team with me know I tend to be quite "comfortable" with my body, so this was an adjustment. On the plus side, I wash my (only) shirt every time I shower.
OK, first topic!
Bulgakov's house, now a museum dedicated to him.
Mikhail Bulgakov was a writer whose creative period collided with the creative period for the Soviet Union. Fortunately, art won out, as always. His acclaimed novel, Master and Margerita, didn't get published for 27 years, but once it finally came out it became a huge favorite in Russia, as I understand it, as well as an acknowledged classic.
That's all well and good, and you may have known that already. What impresses me is that pretty much everybody here confesses their love for the book. It's actually hip to like this book here! I'm actually hip here! (Ok, not so much...)
Since most of the story takes place in Moscow, you can go around and actually see where, say, the Devil meets Berlioz and Homeless, or where Berlioz gets beheaded by a tram, or where MASSOLIT is. I imagine this is very similar to how Dublin is with Joyce, only not nearly as thick and hard to read.
Anyway, this was the first time I pulled out my camera over here, so here are a few more pictures associated with M&M.
Patriarshi Pond, where the novel begins
Gribodeyov's, home of MASSOLIT, though in real life it was a building named for Gorky
The front door to Cafe Margarita, right off of the Pond. The Russian at the bottom is the famous line, "Manuscripts don't burn". (In Russian, duh)
My guide of the day claimed that Berlioz and Homeless sat on one of these two benches. I think, I can't remember her words exactly. I basically just wanted to point out that I went to the Pond with a girl. Actually, 2, on separate occasions. No euphemism intended, though.
Last Thursday I sat out on a bench on the boulevard ring near Pushkin's statue (the meeting place in Moscow, metro stations excepting) with a group of Moscow youth as we talked, told Russian anecdotes, drank beer, smoked cigarrettes, and played guitar. I'll let you figure out which of those activities I as involved in. But I got to hear a lot of the naughty Russian words I learned, and even a good anecdote about one of them. And the upshot was that I've been asked to write a song for one, ahem, person and may be going to Petersburg not alone in a weekend or two.
Billiards and Bathing:
After our independent day of practice on Wednesday, we hit up the sauna. It's not a completely Russian bath, being dry heat, but I assure you it is sufficient. They just redid the room, so it's this 3-tier large wooden bench with plenty of room and an L bend to it. So, like most saunas, you go in mostly or completely naked and sit there and sweat.
The twist comes in the branch. They have this branch, from a birch tree I think ,though am not sure. Anyway, this branch, what they do, is they hit you with it. Lightly, but to get the blood flowing or something.
So I had been in a sauna like this once before, in Lithuania. It was great and made me so excited that I misused one of my favorite words, sensual - I meant to say sensory. This time I go in for the first session, then step out, cool off. But I didn't take advantage of the showers, and I'm realizing that might have been a mistake. As this doubt worms into my head, I request the branch treatment for my second go.
There I am, the American, and while CSKA's wrestlers hail from all over the country (and Russia's a pretty big country) and a few foreign places, American is about as exotic as it gets. They're eager to get their, err, twigs on me. I lie down on the top level, on my belly. And then the whipping starts. Sensations rush through my back, the heat mixed with the sharp but airy pain, everybody's looking at me, and what else could I do but scream? Ok, more like yelp. And I didn't ask off or anything, I hung in there. But I didn't take the treatment on my front (which I recall being even more sensory) and I took my shower after this, cutting short the standard bath numbering of 3.
Later that day, after taking all those Bulgakov pictures, I headed down to play billiards with one of the wrestlers on the south side of town. That's his job, he manages the pool room at a club once every three days for 15 hours. Seems like a not so bad gig, and he whooped me multiple ways in straight American pool (it's probably called 8-ball, eh?) and 9-ball, though I vultured a couple wins. Apparently billiards is really "fashionable" these days, and so it was a good experience. And I met my first potential English student and heard more of that naughty vocabulary.
Interesting event in between: I ran into a friend from Duke on the same car of the metro on the way to the pool hall. The Moscow metro system is huge, there are 24 hours in a day, many cars on many trains, and she doesn't even live in the city. The chances of us running into each other are low, to say the least. Of course, not as low are the chances that on the day I run into someone from Duke, I'm wearing my Carolina Open long-sleeve, with emblem on the heart and all. Geez.
I ride these every day, and let me tell you, good stuff goes down. One day I rode the 88 and there was a drunk who was at first asleep. He was fat, with a 70's styled combover looking hairstyle, and huge sunglasses. I sat next to him, then gave up my seat to an unsuspecting woman. He proceeded to wake up and then rail to whoever would listen (mostly nobody, he went on all the same) about how people could sneak on to the bus for free and it didn't use to be like that, how he was in the army from '82-'84, and the rest of the ills in society. He was great.
Then another day on the bus some kid snuck on (one of about 15 people who did, it happens when the back doors open to let people off), and somebody else caught him and started asking for him to pay the fine (I think it's only 100 rubles, roughly $4). He refused, claiming he had a student pass and it just didn't work, or he didn't use it or something. Anyway, this led to him trying to sneak under the man's arm and off the bus at the next stop, and there was scuffling and jostling and punching. They were both in a huff when we pulled away, but it was funny.
Then there was the dude I saw/met on the way to that guitar playing Thursday night. Slightly balding with reddish brown hair, middle aged, in a sweat suit of sorts, he was doing pull-ups when I saw him at the bus stop. Then he explained it, "You have to use your time wisely", before jogging off to the next stop. He did beat the bus there. Then he got into an argument with an older man about culture and respect. And then he asked me to play on my guitar, cited some old Russian songs. Which led to this gem- "In the future machines will do all the work, so all we'll do is art and sports." I figure I'm all set if I live to 120. Anyway, he lives alone in the same building I live in, his friends just like to get drunk (which led to the woman next to him nodding in agreement), and he got off the bus a stop early to jog to the station. Just beautiful. Ahh, Moscow.