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Cristina’s travels TAC 2015 Team Pushkin

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 Message 201 of 297
19 January 2015 at 12:26am | IP Logged 
1) I still speak about 70% svorsk :) And I certainly don't belong in the same category of
polyglots as Simcott etc

2) Don't get me started on the Belgian railways...

Edited by tarvos on 19 January 2015 at 12:26am

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 Message 202 of 297
19 January 2015 at 10:00am | IP Logged 
I really enjoy reading your long texts Christina. You definitely have a talent for storytelling, so you should seriously think about writing a book! I'll buy it.

By the way, the words you refer to from the Orthodox Mass are written Господи помилуй in Cyrillic, normally transcribed as "gospodi pomiluj", and it is the Church Slavonic translation of the Greek Κύριε, ἐλέησον (Kyrie eleison), which as you correctly guessed means Lord, have mercy.

Should you ever be interested in learning a bit Old Church Slavonic, then Omniglot is a good place to start. Here you find an introduction to the OCS alphabet, links to different online resources etc.

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 Message 203 of 297
19 January 2015 at 7:43pm | IP Logged 
Hi Cristina! Thanks for yet another informative and entertaining post! Hoping to read even more of your stories this year!

Solfrid Cristin wrote:
That is possibly because in Spain crossing yourself is not just part of the mass, it is part of everyday life and speech. When I was a child living in Spain, crossing myself was something I saw and did every day. If you heard something shocking, you would cross yourself and kiss your thumb, sometimes 10-15 times in a row. I have not seen that in Russia, so I have no idea whether this is done, and since I have never lived in a family in rural Russia the way I have in Spain, I have no points of reference.

People do cross themselves outside the church in Russia too, but it's mostly older people who do that, women more so than men. For someone of my generation to do the sign of the cross outside of church ceremonies in earnest would be pretty quaint to say the least, even if they are baptised. I remember as a little kid whenever I crossed myself as a way of aping my older relatives I was told that I'm not allowed to do that, since I was never baptised (my father is a pretty staunch atheist, so our nuclear family never got onto the Orthodox Revival bandwagon, unlike most of our relatives).

Solfrid Cristin wrote:
I was not able to catch much of what was said during the mass, because most of the mass was given not in Russian but in Church Slavonic, and only perhaps 2-3 % in Norwegian. I do not know how close the two languages are, but I obviously recognized a lot of words from Russian, and I suppose that had I been a fluent Russian speaker I would have understood it all. I seemed to recognize a few words from Ukrainian and Serbian - is that possible? That there are words from Church Slavonic which have lived on in Ukrainian and Serbian but not in Russian?
Given my lack of a religious background my exposure to Church Slavonic is probably below average, but I don't think I had much trouble understanding the priest at the only church service I ever attended (a funeral). Recognizing words from Serbian makes a lot of sense, since Old Church Slavonic is a South Slavic language (it's sometimes referred to as Old Bulgarian). Of course, the version of modern Church Slavonic used by the Russian Orthodox Church is heavily Russified in phonology, grammar and vocabulary, to the point where it's arguable whether it should be classified as South or East Slavic, but the core vocabulary used in the traditional prayers, sermons and hymns is generally preserved. The Ukrainian link is slightly more surprising, since it actually has fewer loanwords from CS than Russian, but it's not unusual for some words either loaned from CS or inherited from Proto-Slavic to be preserved in Ukrainian but not in Russian. Besides, the traditional pronunciation of CS in Russia does have a sort of Ukrainian feel, particularly with the lack of vowel reduction and the fricative Г (although nowadays these features seem to be giving way to standard Russian pronunciations).

Solfrid Cristin wrote:
Mark and vonPeterhof, are there any museums or any other places you think I should see in Moscow?
I'm afraid I'm not the best person to ask about what to see in Moscow, being relatively new to the city myself. Although do feel free to ask me what to see if you're ever in St. Petersburg or Almaty. For now I'm going to reiterate my recommendation to take a walk near the Moscow State University and enjoy the view of the city from Воробьевы Горы.
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 Message 204 of 297
20 January 2015 at 5:14am | IP Logged 
Cristina, I had so much fun reading your update. I wholeheartedly agree with Ogrim -- you do have a wonderful talent for storytelling.

Your description of the Russian Orthodox mass was especially beautiful to read about. I found it quite interesting to hear an outsider's take on the Orthodox traditions, and learning a bit more about Russian Orthodox traditions in particular. My family isn't especially religious, but whenever we did go to church as a family for Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals, it was always to the Greek Orthodox church. A lot of the traditions you described seem to be very similar, if not the same, as in the Greek Orthodox church, and I remember finding it funny at first how differently Catholics and Protestants did these basic things, like crossing oneself. I would have also been intrigued to hear the Old Church Slavonic spoken/sung -- I'm sure it was a similar experience for you as a speaker of Russian as it is for me as a speaker of Modern Greek hearing the Byzantine Greek that is used in Greek Orthodox church services. I wonder how much of the Old Church Slavonic I might understand given my background in Croatian and somewhat limited knowledge of Bulgarian.

Wishing you lots of continued success and opportunities to pamper yourself -- you deserve it!
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 Message 205 of 297
21 January 2015 at 10:43am | IP Logged 
You may have to have slightly weird interests to travel far outside the center to the first museum I'm going to recommend, but Moscow actually has a splendid Paleontological museum far South near he outermost ring road (but near a metro station and an open air market). There is a museum of Natural history in the center, but last time I visited it it looked somewhat delapidated. The Glinka Music museum to the North is also worth a visit.
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 Message 206 of 297
24 February 2015 at 6:20pm | IP Logged 
@tarvos: You are one of a kind:-)

@ogrim: Thank you for the feed back, and thanks for the link. When my Russian gets better (a lot better!) I
would love to study a little Church Slavonic :-)

@vonPeterhof: Thank you for the feed back! I have as much fun reading what you guys write as I have
writing my own entry :-)

@ellasevia: Thank you, I am glad you liked it! The mass was also a really special experience indeed :-)

@Iversen: I'll keep that in mind for my next visit :-)


You know you have been out with a Ukrainian party girl when you think you have had quite a lively evening,
since you have drunk, smoked, danced in a bar and lied (white lie, but still), and she thinks you have been
the prude of the century. My business trips are usually extremely quiet and uneventful. I fly in, I go to bed
early, I go to my meeting the next day and I return home the next evening. Very occasionally I go out for
dinner when I am in Paris, in Brussels I meet up with a friend, we have a cup of tea and talk, if there is an
official reception of some kind I may attend that, and in the 23 years I have done this, I have not done
anything beyond that.

This time I wanted some Russian practice, so I called a Ukrainian friend and invited her out for dinner, during
which we spoke about 50/50 Russian and French, (and yeah! I understood 90% of her Russian- she is so
good at speaking slowly and clearly, that I have no problem whatsoever to follow) and I again made the
reflection that women's lives and experiences can be so similar that it is scary, in spite of having very different
backgrounds, and having grown up under very different circumstances and political systems. You can finish
each others sentences and you know the outcome of a story because you lived through the exact same thing.
I expanded my Russian vocabulary considerably, with expressions that I have never seen in any textbook. I
know people think Scandinavians are quite liberal, and in some respects we are, but most foreigners grossly
underestimate the Puritanism of our society. Details of one's - eh - personal life - is not discussed among
Norwegian women. Not drunk, not drugged, not in revenge, not ever under any circumstances. It's totally
taboo. I have however had conversations with female friends from both Latin-America, Asia and Eastern
Europe which literally made me blush all the way up to the roots of my hair, and after one particularly candid
conversation I remember thinking that I was so happy that one of the ex-husbands we discussed was dead,
and the other one hates me, so I never see him, because I literally would not have known how to look them in
the face again after learning way more about their personal life than I had ever wanted to. And now I am also
extremely happy that I expect never to meet my Ukrainian friend's ex.

After dinner she took me to a bar where they had really nice music, and where she told me that there was
dancing in the weekends. " Next time you come you must stay for the week end" she said. "We'll come here
and we'll dance".   Since I love to dance that sounded like a splendid idea, but I was a bit puzzled because I
could not see any dance floor. "Oh, that's fine, people dance on the tables" she goes. Yeah, cause with my
vertigo, dancing on a wobbly table is so an activity I am going to engage in. Not.

I won't say that my dancing days are over, they're absolutely not, but my dancing on the table days are
definitely over. By the time I would have had enough alcohol in my system to forget my vertigo, that
particular activity would have been positively life threatening. I have a very vague memory of having danced
on a table once, many, many years ago, but that was a huge really sturdy table, and not skimpy, wobbly little
ones like these. Anyhow, after a little while a bunch of Spaniards at the table behind us insisted that we come
and sit with them, and since my friend was already flirting heavily with one of them, and I am always up for
speaking Spanish, we did. Both my friend and I speak 7 languages each, but unfortunately Spanish is not
one of hers, and he of course spoke as much English as I speak Kazakh, so naturally they wanted me to
interpret. The problem was that I had at this point been very busy fulfilling one of my New Year's resolutions,
and had drunk a glass of white wine, an Irish Coffee and half a Martini Bianco. That may not sound as much,
but it is a huge amount for me, so my brain was clouded, and between that, the loud music and the fact that I
was really, really uncomfortable interpreting what they wanted me to interpret, I refused. I know they felt I was
being difficult, but interpreting between Russian and Spanish would have been extremely hard under the very
best of circumstances, and these clearly were not the best of circumstances. So I left them to figure things
out for themselves, and talked to the 6 other Spaniards instead. Unlike Norwegians and Swedes, they are
able to talk to girls before getting too drunk to actually talk at all, and they were predictably very surprised to
meet a Norwegian with an Andalusian accent. I was a little surprised that none of the ones who came from
Barcelona had any Catalan accent, but most of them had parents from Andalusia. I also managed to get hold
of a couple of huge glasses of water so that I could clear my head. I had no problems speaking Spanish, I
can literally do that in my sleep (in fact I have spoken Spanish in my sleep on at least two occasions), but in
order to speak with my friend I had to speak Russian or French, and for both those languages I need a clear
head. Fortunately, I usually sober up in about 15 minutes, as I never get actually drunk. Not enough alcohol
for that. A couple of the guys dragged both me and my friend out on the non existing dance floor to dance
salsa, even though I tried to refuse. I do not know how to dance salsa. In fact I do not know how to dance
anything you need to know how to dance. And when a man says "That's ok, just follow my lead, you'll do
fine!" it makes me about as comfortable as " Would you like to take a swim with these live crocodiles who
have not eaten in a week", "come jump out of an airplane with me", or "would you like to give a speech in
front of 200 people wearing only lingerie"? When I used to go dancing in Spain when I was young, there were
three kinds of dances. 1) Jumping around as you wanted to (which I still do)   2) Flamenco ( which I have
totally forgotten how to do) and 3) " Un lento" which basically consisted of dancing slowly so close that you
could count all the buttons of the guy's shirt with your body, and take one step to the left and two to the right.
Even I could do that. 25 years ago. I don't know if I can still do that. Haven't tried for at least 20 years. My
husband did not like to dance, and that particular kind of dancing you do not engage in with another man if
you are married. On a good day I can also pull off a waltz and a Norwegian polka, but that is my entire

Fortunately they did after a while understand that me dancing salsa was a horrible idea, and when there was
a song I really liked I convinced my friend to jump around with me. Dancing in between the tables of a really
full bar was a new experience, but I actually had a great time. Also in an effort to clear my head I went
outside for some fresh air, and before I knew it I have smoked a cigarette for the first time in years. That may
not sound particularly peculiar, but the thing is that I am a militant anti smoker - in fact I am allergic to smoke
and cannot inhale, I am terribly bothered if someone smokes 5 meters away from me, even outdoors. I may
have smoked 10- 20 cigarettes in my entire life, and each time I do that, I have to blow the smoke as far away
as I can. The guy who gave me the cigarette said to be careful, that I might like it so much that I'd start
smoking. Ha! Not in this life, I won't. I still had to blow the smoke as far away from me as I possibly could, so
that I would not actually breathe in any of it.

My friend was getting very close and personal with one of the Spaniards, but I simply couldn't. I need to get to
know people properly before I can bear to have them touching me, so I have never been comfortable with the
'getting to know people in a bar"- scenario. Besides, most of them were 30 years old, and I simply can't do
any heavy flirting with a 30-year old. Not while keeping my dignity. After a while they wanted us to go to a
salsa place with them, but I declined since I was working the next day. Actually I was not working until 15.00,
so this is where the lie came in. I pretended I had to work at 9, because I really wanted to be rested for the
next day. I was not going to arrive at a meeting with a head ache and smelling like a chimney. As we were
about to leave I could not find my scarf, and there was this really nice Mexican guy sitting behind me who
was super helpful, and when after 5 minutes of searching we could not find it, he offered me three times to
take his scarf instead. Of course if I had had any sense, I would have taken him up on his offer, given him my
card, asked him to call me the next day so I could return the scarf, and had a cup of coffee with him, as he
was both the right age, a total gentleman, really sweet and kind, non-pushy and with no wedding ring.
Unfortunately I am so out of practice, that I did not even think about that until an hour later. My friends keep
pushing me quite strongly to start dating now instead of waiting for another couple of years, like I had planned
to, and every time I protest that I am not ready, they remind me that I do not have to marry a guy just
because we go out for a cup of coffee. Anyhow it was a linguistically very satisfying evening. Lots of easy,
understandable Russian, lots of French (the go-to language for my Ukrainian friend and me is French when I
get too tired to speak Russian) and I also spoke French with all the waiters, masses of Spanish and just a
little bit of English. Perfect evening. And the Mexican gentleman refused to give up searching until he found
my scarf, so I got it in the end.

The next day I did a few hours of work, before I did a little shopping. The only thing that disappointed me
when I was in Russia was that I had hoped to find lots of ear rings with clips. I am allergic to nickel and
cannot use ear rings for pierced ears anymore, and in Turkey they had these cool ear rings where you could
chose whether you wanted them for clips or regular ones, and they said that they had the clips option
because of the Russians. However in Moscow I did not find a single pair, so when I found a store in Brussel
that had them I bought 9 pairs. I have not let my daughters pierce their ears either, so we can all use them.

And remind me never to complain about Norwegian men again. Their initiative factor may be a bit low, but
like the French say: "Tes qualités sont aussi tes défauts"   (Your best traits are also your worst traits) so their
creep factor is thankfully also low. In a clothes store I had found some garments that I wanted to try on, so I
took them to the changing booth and tried on the lot, and given that some of them were incredibly time
consuming, and complicated to put on on your own, it took me about 25 minutes. All through that time, I could
hear a guy who was speaking to the shop attendant and I remember thinking that she had the patience of a
saint. When I finally came out, I told her so, and she said that I was lucky that he had finally gone, that he had
kept staring at me the whole time, and that he had made innuendos like "I am old now, but my lion still has all
its force...". (He was from Afghanistan according to the shop assistant). I told her that I did not understand
what she meant by him staring at me, because I had made very sure that the changing booth was totally
closed, so no one could see anything, but apparently, there was a 15 cm gap at the bottom, so he could see
my feet, and he could see when I was taking the garments on and off. And someone who will make small talk
for 25 minutes just to watch a woman's naked feet and a few garments, is so beyond pathetic that it is just
sad. And really creepy. Anyhow, I got a long conversation in French with the shop assistant who was really
nice, after which I was even less inclined to complain about Norwegian men. She told me that she was single,
and there were not less than three men in her building who kept pestering her, and would not take no for an
answer, so she was almost scared to go home. Inattentiveness and lack of initiative absolutely have their
positive sides as well - in that you are rarely harassed. It's not for nothing that Norway is considered one of
the very best countries in the world to be a woman. I have had a few incidents of guys I have known for a
while (divorced neighbors, divorced or widowed gardening acquaintances) who suddenly has become a lot
friendlier and more personal lately, but nothing that worries me at all. When I am just my regular smiling,
polite me and do not respond, they do not take it further.

I have been getting quite a lot of Russian practice lately. I met up with my Kazakh friend, and she is absolute
balm for my soul. She calls me her silver, her gold and tells me that she thanks God daily for having met me.
My only worry is that I am unable to get out the words to reciprocate, and not just because my Russian is
lacking. For a Norwegian saying: "I am so happy to have met you' is already a big thing. She reminds me of a
neighbor I had when I was a child, Astrid. She was an old woman (old for me, but probably only in her 60 ies)
but no one was as good at boosting my self confidence as her. She was a real lady. I met her when I was 4
years old, and she always loved me unconditionally, treated me like I was unique, special, gifted, beautiful,
smart, talented and totally worthy of her deepest respect. When she had fancy dinner parties she included
me, and taught me the strictest of manners, and how to always include everyone and be kind to everyone.
She passed away when I was 15, and it almost broke my heart. I would have given anything to have her see
that I really did ok for myself, that I have a career and that I am loved by my children and my friends, and that
although I am not this totally unique creature she treated me as, I turned out ok. I hope that some day, when
my kids do not need me as much, I can pay it forward, and if I can mean 10% of what she meant to me, to
another child who can benefit from some extra attention, then I'll be happy with my life. I try to do it on a small
scale now, with my children's friends, but that made my daughters unhappy, because they felt it was unfair
that I made all their friends feel special, when their friends's parents did not make them feel special. Sigh.
Sometimes you cannot win. Though I see their point.

My grandfather was the kindest man I have ever known, and he was a grandfather to all my friends, and I
remember feeling so disappointed when my best friend's grandmother visited, and barely spoke to me. I did
not understand that my grandfather was one of a kind, and that other grandparents were just interested in
their own grandchildren. He is the only man who has had the capacity to know what I wanted without me
even asking, and who made sure I got it. I will never forget being a young child, nose flattened against the
shop window, looking at the thing I had most coveted in my 5 year old life. In fact, the thing I have ever
wanted the most in my entire life. A gun. A gun which made actual noise when you fired it, and smelled of
gun powder. I knew there was no point in asking, my mother would never, ever be willing to buy me that. And
my grandfather just looked at me, saw the look in my eyes,and went in and bought it for me. If there is a
Heaven I know he is there, even though he did not believe in God, for that act alone. I have no idea how he
decided to get me that gun, because he was the most peaceful person on the planet, physically incapable of
killing a fly, and already then people were saying you should not buy toy guns to children, because it would
encourage violence, but I guess he did not see me as a future terrorist :-)

Anyhow, to get back to my Kazakh friend, we went to a restaurant, where the menu was in Norwegian and
English. And she speaks only Russian and Kazakh. So of course she wanted me to translate the menu
including all the fish dishes, which was a hoot because the only fish I know in Russian is salmon. So I dived
into an explanation of non salmon red fish (trout), thin fish (flounder), really ugly fish and even uglier fish (
have no idea what they are in English either). I need some work on my Russian fishes. Our waiter was from
Azerbaijan, but his Norwegian was absolutely amazing even though he had only been here for a few years. I
could hardly detect an accent. I had hoped that he would speak some Russian, to explain some of the menu,
but he didn't, however we discovered at the end of the meal that his Azeri and her Kazakh was similar
enough for basic conversation.

Otherwise I have really been deep diving into Russian culture lately. I am so fortunate as to have a bigger
sister, who I love to death, who is super interested in culture of every kind, so when I signaled that I had
gotten to the stage where I wanted to savor whichever aspect of Russian culture I could, she got busy getting
me that. Before I went to Moscow last time, we saw 'Three sisters' by Chekhov, and as you know we went to
the Russian Orthodox mass, and during the last couple of weeks we have seen the Russian film which won in
Cannes, 'Leviathan', Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' (6 hours and a half...) and we went to the opera to see the
ballet 'Romeo and Juliet' with music by Prokofiev. In addition I have watched 'The Cranes are flying' on my
own. And next month we are going to see a play by Gogol. My sister is a cultural contact at the school where
she teaches, so she gets to know first about anything that goes on in Oslo's cultural life.

It has taken me a little while to appreciate Russian film. Pretty much everything is different,     It is a lot rawer,
in the best sense of that word, and direct, and non glossed over than the American movies we usually get,
and my eternal hope for a happy ending is rarely met. The two films I have seen lately are from very different
periods (Napoleonic war/Second World War), but the topic is not only the war as such, but how it affects
people's lives in both films, and they both have a use of lights and shades which is mind blowing. I am
generally so focused on the story, that I do not notice things like that, but here it is impossible not to.

Leviathan on the other hand has attracted some criticism in Russia, because it is felt like it is showing off the
worst sides of Russian society, and that the prize in Cannes was given so that the West could get to give
Russia a kick in the stomach. I can of course not rule out that someone on the committee may have had such
thoughts, but after having seen the film, I would think that it won because it is an amazingly good film, and
that it won more because it shows off traits that are universal than because it shows off traits which are
specifically Russian. And it is actually based on a true story. From the US... Anyhow, go and see it if you get
the chance. In Oslo we very rarely get Russian films, so when we do, they tend to be really good, and this
one definitely is.

I was also pleasantly surprised by 'Romeo and Juliet'. With the exception of 'The Nut Cracker' by Tchaikovsky
which I have seen several times, I have avoided ballet for the last 20 years. It bored me. I was so focused on
my home life, that everything which was important to me before I got married -art, music, theater, films, even
literature, traveling and languages, just faded into the background, and one of the amazing things about my
life now, is that I am rediscovering all those things. A friend of mine who got divorced against her will a year
before me, said that getting divorced was like getting out of a prison she did not know she was in. The
difference between her and me, was that I was perfectly well aware of being in that prison. Or actually, it is
even more the sensation of having been buried in a coffin underground for a long time, and now suddenly
awake and see colors again, appreciate music, even my taste in food has changed, and everything seems
brighter, clearer, more vivid. People wonder how I can walk around on a grey, rainy day with a big, happy
smile plastered all over my face for no particular reason that they can detect, and it is really just that. I am
getting back to being the old Cristina, and I am rediscovering the world. And the world is an absolutely
amazing place to be in :-) I am like a new convert, just that I have not turned to religion but to life. And the
music of Prokofiev is powerful, heart gripping and unique. My favorite part was the 'Knight's Dance'. It is one
of those pieces of music that you know that you know, but that you cannot place, and that is so powerful that
it whips up a storm in your heart and mind when you listen to it.

The next cultural event was 'War and Peace'. Now 6 and a half hours, is pretty hefty for a film, but there was
a film festival on in Oslo where they showed it, and since it was two years since the last opportunity to see
that film in Oslo, and the tickets back then were sold out in no time, my sister got us tickets at the first
opportunity, and was second in line in the 50 meter queue when I reached the cinema. She did of course not
speak to anyone in the queue. This is a Norwegian queue we are talking about. But as soon I got there I
obviously started to chat with the people around her, and particularly to the guy in front of her who was a film
buff who had seen all the movies at the festival. I told him I was very interested in Russian culture, and he
commented that Russians were really good at making films. I asked him what Russian films he had seen, and
he mentioned among others 'The Cranes are Flying' which I have been dying to see, since the song
'Журавли' is one of my favorites, and that he had the DVD.

'War and Peace' was an amazing film. One would think that 6 hours and a half in Russian could be a bit
much, but it is so well done, that apart from some of the war scenes, which were a bit on the heavy side for
me, I did not mind at all. Again the use of lights and shadows was remarkable, From a linguistic point of view
it was of course interesting to see how the Russian aristocracy in Moscow and St. Petersburg spoke French
to each other. And used the formal form 'vous'. Curiously enough one of the couples used the formal form to
each other in French, and the informal one in Russian. I go for the same form across languages, and I tend to
struggle to use the informal form with people my own age and older, or even younger adults. With my
Ukrainian friend in Belgium I have always used 'vous' and naturally go for 'вы' in Russian, but I noticed that
as the evening was proceeding, she slipped into the informal form a few times, and I guess after having been
friends for 12 years, and been out partying together, it might be time to cross over into the informal one :-)

Given the length of the film there were three breaks, in which the film buff from the front of the queue came
over to talk to us, and since I am the naturally chatty person I am, we talked and laughed, so when we left the
cinema, my sister commented that he seemed quite taken with me and that it was a pity that he had left so
quickly after the film so we could not exchange contact details. I responded that I did not know whether he
was taken or not, but he was a Norwegian guy who had come over to talk to us voluntarily. Norwegians are
impossible for me to read. I had however been musing over whether I would dare to ask to borrow 'Журавли'
from him, and had given him my calling card at the end of the third break, and asked him to give me a call if
he was ever willing to lend me the film. When I got home, there was already a message from him. He did not
have it in Oslo, but in his house at the opposite side of the country, but he could send it to me by mail in a
couple of weeks.

Since I had so much traveling planned in the coming weeks I said it was ok if I got it in a few weeks, but the
following week he texted me that he had managed to find another copy of 'Журавли' in a shop in Oslo, and
that he had bought it for me, and if we could meet in the centre of Oslo he could give it to me. This caused a
major row with my youngest daughter over outfit, hair and make up, because she was so excited that after
two years of not seeing men at all, I was finally meeting a guy, that she wanted me to look stunning. I tried to
explain to her that this was not a date, he was just handing over the film, plus when we first met I had looked
like something the cat dragged home,(no make up, flat shoes, really baggy clothes , disheveled hair - I was
only supposed to be sitting in a dark movie theatre all day) so if I suddenly came in make up and dress, that
would send the wrong signal. If ever an actual date is on the table, I'll consider it again, but given that he lives
a 10 hour journey away, that is not very likely. My daughter and I compromised on very light make up and a
nice leather jacket since I was anyway meeting another friend later. I asked him if he had read any Russian
literature, but he said he did not read literature, just history books. He just texted me today that he has bought
'Crime and Punishment' , though. I should be getting a prize from the Russian state for contributing to
spreading Russian culture in Norway:-)

So the next film I saw was "Летят журавлы' and again their use of light and shadows is out if this world. It is
a sad, tragic yet somehow optimistic film, and I am really happy that I got to see it. I must see more Russian
films. There is a rape scene there, that I found extremely shocking when I read about it in beforehand, but
when I saw it, I not only saw that it was handed so discretely that I probably would not have noticed it if I had
not known, but it also is the only such scene I could actually understand the reasons for. Not tolerate, accept
or condone, mind you. Just understand. The guy who is in love with the girl who is the fiancée of his cousin is
forced to stay in their apartment during a bombing because she is traumatized, gets hysterical and refuses to
go to the bomb shelter. A bomb falls, the lights go out, and she is scared and runs into his arms. Given that
people's libido is raised when they think they are on the verge of death, and they do things that they might
otherwise not do (a survival of the race mechanism apparently) and he was standing in a dark room with her
in his arms, it became psychologically more understandable. And the fact that she was so traumatized by the
death of her parents explains why she did not fight longer than she did. Amazing film. I think it is the only
Russian film to have won in Cannes.

So Sunday morning I woke up and before even opening my eyes I thought: Hey, you need to get up, you are
going to Moscow today! And then I opened my eyes and realized: No I don't. I am already here. And yes, I
know, this is bordering on an addiction. The few people at home who know I am here probably think I either
have a Russian lover or am turning into a spy, and how can I even begin to explain to anyone how firm a grip
this city has over my heart when I cannot even explain it to myself. I just feel this overwhelming need to be
here. I had a similar thing when I was studying Spanish, but that was not linked to a specific city, I travelled all
over Spain but stayed mostly in Andalusia. I guess it is that in order to learn a language properly I need to
feel the language and the culture in my bones. I needed to feel Spanish in order to speak Spanish. I guess I
need to feel Russian in order to get over the barrier and really speak Russian. Anyhow - I came here on
Sunday, and apart from a fire alarm and evacuation at the Oslo airport and a rabidly scared-of-flying 20 year
old Pakistani who was alternately screaming for vodka (which he did not get as they did not serve alcohol)
claiming that his girlfriend had turned into a worm and yelling 'Allah - Allah' on the plane it was a fairly
uneventful trip.

My taxi driver was again from Uzbekistan and although I could detect a slight accent his Russian sounded
really good. (Yeah! I am able to detect an accent in Russian!) we spoke for about 45 minutes, and there were
a few times when no matters how many turns I made I did not manage to get around a word which I needed,
but most of the time I got my meaning across. In fact I was so successful in singing my country's praise, and
how well asylum seekers were received that he said that he would go home and tell all his friends about it.
Fearing that we would get hordes of Uzbek asylum seekers who would get terribly   disappointed, I hurried to
explain to him that you had to have really serious grounds to seek asylum, and that everyone else would be
expected to pay for themselves, that it was not easy to get a work permit when you are not from the EU, and
that even if you made it, Norwegians were cold people, and that I had Cuban friends who although they
received generous benefits, they still left for the US, because they felt they were so isolated that they were
dying. He nodded, and said he understood. I really hope he did. At the end of the trip he shook my hand, said
it had been a pleasure to talk to me and drive me, and that he would be delighted to drive me again. And I
had not even tipped him. I actually get that a lot in France. I tend to give taxi drivers my full attention, so we
discuss family, politics, religion, their experience with learning languages at school, ethnic and cultural
differences - whatever pops up, and I suspect the majority of 'French' taxi drivers are unaccustomed to that,
and appreciate it. It is however the first time any Russian conversation I have had, has received that kind of
reaction, so I was very pleased indeed.

When I got into Moscow, it was Saturday night and St. Valentines Day, and I was hungry. I have never gotten
to celebrate St. Valentines day anyway, - my ex-husband felt that it was just a day made up by American
commercial businesses - so regardless of how many heart shaped boxes with his favorite chocolate or cards
I slipped into his back pack over the years, he refused to reciprocate in any way.   It is therefore not anything I
would normally miss, but I figured that going to a regular restaurant filled with a gazillion couples might make
me a tad uncomfortable, so I headed for the blini restaurant at GUM, figuring that no self respecting Russian
man would take his woman there for a date, so I could just focus on the food. I love blinis. Simply adore them.
And this time I had a blini with caviar and one with cottage cheese and raisins. Lovely :-) I would never in a
million years have thought of putting either on a pancake - we are incredibly traditional in Norway when it
comes to pancakes, but that's why you go to another country. To try out new tastes :-) To my great sorrow
they did not have my beloved meduvucha - or honey beer, but I dealt with that particular shortage later in the

In the morning I was starving, so I totally overdosed on the lovely herring they have, and enjoyed oat meal
porridge, sausages, yoghurt - the lot. I actually took a picture to send to my oldest daughter, who has gotten it
into her head that I am developing anorexia. No one with anorexia would have been able to get down all I
have eaten over the last week, but I did not want her to worry. The only thing I did not find was salmon, and I
first thought it might be because of the sanctions, but later I saw salmon several places, so I guess it was just
a coincidence.

On Sunday I had made an appointment with Serpent and espejismo to go to the Jewish museum, and since
we wanted to get as much out of the day as possible, we decided to meet at 12. Then espejismo was a little
bit late, I had set my watch at the wrong hour, we were supposed to meet Serpent at the museum, but had a
misunderstanding of where to meet plus there was no cell phone coverage, so between one thing and
another, before we actually got into the exposition it was 17.15. Not exactly the early start we had planned :-)
Espejismo and I had a long and very interesting conversation though, so it was no problem.

We got to see it all even so, and it was a very new and interesting museum. I have been interested in Jewish
culture for many years, having spent Passover in a Jewish family in Israel once, but I did not have much
knowledge about what they had gone through on Russian territory. And sadly, after the acts of terror in both
France and Denmark against both the freedom of speech and against Jews, it is a horrifyingly contemporary
topic. I am by the way incredibly impressed and proud of an initiative taken by Norwegian Muslims last week.
After realizing that Norwegian Jews are scared of Muslims after all that has gone down, a few young Muslims
decided to make a human chain outside the synagogue in Oslo at the end of the service on Saturday, under
the motto: "If anyone wants to hurt the Jews, he has to go through us first." There still is hope for the world...

Anyhow, the exposition showed also some expressions in Yiddish and Hebrew, which you could combine on
an interactive board. But the real surprise was the film with the introduction to Jewish history from the
beginning of times. We got glasses, and I asked if it was 3-d. No, I think it is 4-d said Serpent, and while I was
trying to wrap my head around what 4-d could possible be, I found out. Because suddenly my chair started
moving, I had rain in my face, and after a little while I had to put my hands up in protection, as it looked like
giant locusts came right up to my face. Wow.

Then we looked at examples of the history of the Jews over the last centuries, and there was a film on one of
the largest canvases I have ever seen with interviews of people who lived through the Second World War and
the siege of Leningrad. That had of course double interest for me, as part of both Jewish and Russian history.
I am again and again ashamed of how little I know about Russian history and culture. Norway is very USA -
fixated, and I probably know more about the US than I need to or even want to. The biggest country in the
world, who also happens to be our neighbor, I know next to nothing about. And I know more about it than
most Norwegians (you excluded Ogrim :-). Before I started studying Russian I had written a paper in school
on Russia, and was asked to give an exposé for my fellow students about the literature part, which had
impressed my teacher. Reading Tolstoi and Chekhov was not common among my fellow pupils, but of course
in Russia they are a people of readers, who read not only their own literature but also that of the rest of the
world, so here it would have been absolutely normal. I was also interested enough to visit Moscow and
Leningrad when I was in my early twenties, and I had picked up a little bit at the opera and through literature.
But all in all, absolutely embarrassingly blank.

Ok. Comparative study of Russian ladies's room coming up. Skip to next paragraph if you like :-) I know the
topic is unconventional, but to Norwegians it is as natural as anything else. I think I have already told you the
story of a high official of the Norwegian Ministry of Transport who was taken to one of the poshest restaurants
in London by his British colleague. Visiting the men's room he saw that it looked like an absolute palace.
Marble, gold (or gilded probably) and huge bouquets of fresh flowers. Getting back to his colleague, he was
really enthusiastic, and said: "Have you seen the men's room, it is absolutely amazing"! His colleague leaned
over to him and said: "My friend, when I take someone to one of the best restaurants in London, and he starts
talking about toilets, I know I am with a Norwegian". For some reason, even blogs written by Russians insist
that you should bring your own toilet paper to Russia, due to an alleged shortage. I have absolutely no idea
why they try to depict Russia as a third world country, because all I have seen have been in absolute pristine
conditions, with nothing lacking. And the one in the Jewish museum took first prize. Heated seat, two sorts of
in-built bidets, and a button we could not even figure out what was for. Neither Espejismo nor Serpent could
figure it out. I did not want to leave :-)

The other one I found remarkable was in the Gorkij park. I was a little bit hesitant, as public ones tend to be
less than pleasant in most countries, but this one was great. Again, in pristine condition, actually smelled of
roses (!), well heated and the radio on. The reason why I did not really want to leave this one either was the
radio. I can't understand radio speed Russian, but I picked out words. Ukraine, nation, Fascists, war, peace. I
would really, really have liked to understand.

After the Jewish museum I went to see a movie. 50 Shades of Grey. The language in that book is so poor
and simple, that I was sure I would understand a lot more than I usually do, and I was right. Normally I catch
around 10-20%, but here I think I understood around 50%. And the film is not particularly shocking either. I do
not judge anyone, but personally I do not understand the concept of inflicting pain on another human being.
Particularly not within the framework of love. However the SM theme is really a secondary one in the book.
The main theme is finding someone who will take you from being insecure and unloved and without
confidence, and give you confidence, adoration and unconditional love. That the guy is drop dead gorgeous
and rich does not hurt either. It is however problematic if girls think that in order to find that unconditional love
they have to put up with stalkerish and psychopathic behavior from a guy. Plus the pain. Cinderella meets
Bluebeard. Otherwise it is pretty straight. There are a couple of brutal beatings, which if someone ever
subjected me to that, I would personally make sure that as soon as he had untied me, he would get it back
with interests so he would never associate a whip with pleasure again. The rest is unlikely to shock a married
woman, but in some countries, like in Norway, the film has been given a 15-year age limit, and a 15-year old
is on the young side to see it. Also that means that a 12-year old can go in the company of an adult. Not a
terrific idea. Here the age limit was 18+ though, which I personally found more appropriate.

The film did not end until 1.30 in the morning, so I had the new experience of crossing the centre of Moscow
in the night. There was almost no one, and I did not feel threatened in any way. The centre is fairly safe.

And the love of my life, Boris the 70 year old doorman at the hotel Budapest, greeted me with a big smile
when I got there. He not only remembered me, he remembered the shape of the chocolate I had given him
the last time I was here. Though I guess when you are a 70 year old doorman at a Moscow hotel, the queue
of foreign blondes who give you heart shaped chocolate is a short one :-)

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 Message 207 of 297
24 February 2015 at 6:56pm | IP Logged 
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 Message 208 of 297
24 February 2015 at 8:13pm | IP Logged 
I love reading your stories. You have so many adventures.

If you're ever in St. Petersburg again, please let me know.

The part about the toilets made me laugh. I find it's really hit or miss. Some
restaurants have these beautiful rooms, while others lack a lock on the door, or the
seat. Perhaps it's just my experience, but the bit about the toilet paper is true.

1 person has voted this message useful

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