Thursday, June 12, 2008

First Reflections

Sorry for the lack of pictures guys, but internet here is really crazy and today is the first day that I've had time to write anyhow. Moscow is awesome, I've been here a week just about and already my russian has improved, especially my listening ability. Its wild how quickly the progress is coming, so I'm excited about that.

I take 6 different courses in school. Phonetics, Grammar, conversation practice, a cultural history course, covering music, economic geography, classical history, a video course (basically working on nuance), and then a contemporary culture course.
I take 2 or 3 of those courses a day for either 2 or 1 hours, however the russians have decided to do things. The concept of a syllabus is not only unheard of but hated by the russian teachers, so its sort of a surprise what we'll be learning everyday. anyhow, my favorite course has been the contemporary culture course. the professor's familia is Smi. He's a wise-cracking professor who seems to know more about american culture than the we ourselves know (Hegel would find this obvious i guess.) Anyhow, yesterday he says to us (in russian of course):" all american students are obssessed with these french philosophers now a days. The best living philosopher in the world though, is Noam Chomsky. His theory is wrong, but its stimulating, and thats why I like him the most." Note the lack of "in my opinion" or "according to this or that paper." The russian education system has no need for these qualifications, if the teacher thinks it, then it is. Anyhow, school has been great.

My host family has also been incredible. I live with Dmitri (Dima) Aleksandrovich and Alleona (Alla) Nikolaevna Pestova. They are both retired and live in an apartment near the Kolomenskoe Metro (for those of you with google maps). Its an incredible little apartment because Dima was a geologist for the state back in the day. He discovered an enormous gold deposit in ethopia and as a result spent a lot of time traveling all over the world for the CCCP. His apartment is now filled with african spears, huge taxodermied heads of african animals, massive collections of butterflies, rare rocks, etc. Its incredible.

He told me the other day that his father was a professional pianist, travelling the world to play russian classical music. As a result, when stalin came to power he suspected Dima's father of being a spy for the Japanese and had him killed. Dima was very young when this happened and in my opinion his unbelievable ability to play the piano stems directly from this loss. The first day of my stay with the Pestova's he brought me over to his piano and played jazz like I've never heard before. Alla told me, after he left for the dacha the other day, that what he really wanted to do with his life was create jazz music, but of course the state wouldn't let him. My guess is that he's about 82 and he plays jazz better than anyone i've seen live. He's watched the Ken Burns History of Jazz maybe ten times (with translation to russian of course), and he sat me down to watch a Glenn Miller movie just because it was his favorite. He knew all the words to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, probably without knowing their meaning.

obviously that has been an incredible experience so far, and its only been a few days living with them.

One quick story for the other side of the coin in russia. This morning Alla and I were talking about politics in russia and she asked me what americans think of russia and I was telling her that most americans had no idea about russians, and really only thought about Putin and the CCCP. We then got onto Medvedev and she said that a lot of people refer to Medvedev (in private of course) as LilliPutin. If that doesn't show you how intelligent these people are, i dont know what will.

Anyways, I'm going to have a lot of time this weekend to take some pictures, so there should be more to share soon enough.

доброе день и пока.



Paddy said...

It sounds as though you've been placed well and I'm sure they will appreciate having such an educated and intellectually curious house-guest as well. What better way to achieve fluency - huzzah! BTW - ran into your relations on prize day who actually suggested you in re backpacking Alaska when you return in August. Not sure if that interests you, but it certainly could be set up if you are.
Enjoy the zakuski tovarich.

MrC said...

Please continue to keep us informed. I love the idea of being able to leave out "in my opinion". It is important however to remember that the "authority of the teacher" resides in every member of the learning community and every idea must be open to challenge throught the dialectic of discussion and clash. Why is it only the Hogwarth russian students who have these experiences? Keep it up!!