Doing SPB, Bourdain style

Today, Amanda and I decided to experience St. Petersburg Anthony Bourdain-style and headed to a local market. Food – what we eat, where we buy and eat it, how we prepare it, who we share it with and when — offers an intimate view of what sustains us as individual human beings, and as distinct cultures. I was bound to learn something new, and enjoy it in the process! We started with… Read More

A Final Word

  I took a Russian literature course in college taught by a visiting professor from what was then the USSR. With an authoritarian teaching style that was a marked contrast to the American liberal arts approach I’d become accustomed to, he interrogated us with questions like, “What’s the one word to describe Raskolnikov?” A student brave enough to posit an answer was pronounced, “WRONG.” I sat in silence, fearing humiliation and fuming… Read More

The Fountain of Bakhchisarai

  We saw “The Fountin of Bakhchisarai” at the Mariinski Theater in St. Petersburg, a ballet based on an 1823 narrative poem by Pushkin. The ballet debuted in 1934 in the same theater, which was then called the Kirov (and St. Petersburg was called Leningrad).  Alison, Mark, and Shaw have already posted vivid descriptions of the opulent theater and the gorgeous ballet. I’m adding on in an attempt to capture a thought-provoking conversation with Alison the next day. One of… Read More

What would you do?

What would you do if you lived in Putin’s Russia?  Really?  Are you sure? An old friend who does not reside in the capitals made the overnight train trip to spend the day with me yesterday.  We walked the city, visited the Yusupov palace, and talked and talked over cups of tea.  Eventually, we couldn’t avoid politics.  Unlike my former Russian assistant who surprised me in Moscow with her virulent anti-western sentiment… Read More

Moscow is not Russia, Part II

The 400-mile train journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg was beautiful, but astonishingly empty. We passed through villages and a few towns, but nothing that would qualify as a city (at least not to the west of the train, where I was sitting!). We saw unpaved streets, tiny houses, abandoned factories. We also saw very little cultivated land along the railroad. On the outskirts of Moscow people were gardening at their dachas… Read More

The young and the restless, Russian style

  We arrive at the Mariinsky in a flurry, after having been initially dropped at a theater featuring a large poster advertising an upcoming Carla Bruni concert. We run up the stairs, and rush to our seats in one of the boxes in the balcony. As everyone takes in the opulence of the house, there is a palpable excitement, almost giddiness over the extravagance. Decorated with velvet chairs, gold chandeliers, and all… Read More

Location, Location, Location

Two days ago the heavy rain and winds led to a change in plans for our bus tour. After several planned stops for photo ops that we declined, the guide seemed increasingly nervous. I imagined her thinking, “what am going to do with these people?” When Amanda realized that the guide did not understand we are professors rather than a typical tour group, she clarified. The guide responded by offering a visit… Read More

Moscow is not Russia, Part I

The purpose of this trip is to learn new things, not to confirm what we think we know. Nonetheless, the visible prosperity in Moscow was starting to freak me out. A political scientist wants to think she knows a few basic facts about the world’s major countries, and It was hard to square what I saw there with what I thought I knew. Prices in Moscow are very high. Groceries and restaurant… Read More

Don’t Judge a Church by Its Cover

This morning Alison, Sharon, Shelley, and I visited The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood. The church is built on the site where Alexander II was assassinated, and yesterday’s guide told us it is the only Russian-style building in St. Petersburg. If you clicked on the link, you can see how elaborate the building is. (I can add pictures when back home, but my iPhone 4 can’t access the internet… Read More

Van Gogh Alive

Shortly before leaving for Russia I viewed the Van Gogh Alive exhibit at Discovery Place in Charlotte. Visiting art in a science museum brought new ways to view paintings I have long admired. For example, the enormous screens showing the art often focused on small features of a larger work, one at a time. Music from Van Gogh’s time played as the images changed, and other screens showed quotes from Van Gogh’s… Read More