Я скучаю, I miss

I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and haven’t really gone back to sleep since. I don’t have sleep problems, so who knows what caused the strange wide-awakeness I felt at 2AM. I’m not worried about it, though. In fact, I enjoyed the nighttime peace: I permitted myself to forget the everyday and reflect on whatever came to mind.

Sadly I can’t say that any creative or spiritual lightbulbs exploded in my head. Of all the themes in the world I could have explored while whiling away the witching hours, I got stuck on something admittedly mundane and self-centered: my relationships. More specifically, my Russian friendships.

There are two Volgograd men I miss more than the others. One is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed punk who introduced me to the music of a similarly colored and insanely talented Russian rapper, my new favorite object of language study. (I’m talking about the rapper Oxxxymiron, if that’s relevant to you!) The other guy is a “black Russian” who persuaded me to accept black humor and to generally take things less seriously. From the time we spent together and all the catching up we do on VK, I think he’s one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people I’ve ever met.

I remember the new feeling these guys instilled in me when it was time to go back to the States. It was the first time in my life when I faced a situation where I parted from someone I knew I’d probably never see again. I’ve known people who have moved to other states, but even the distance from coast-to-coast in the US doesn’t compare to the difficulties of reaching Russia or, even more challenging, for Russians to secure a visa to the States. I was sad to leave them but, of course, I was hopeful too – sadness and hope often feed into each other, right? Still, I had only a vague plan to win a Fulbright grant, and without that I didn’t know how else I’d get back to Russia.

But now I’m going back! Even though my destination is far from Volgograd, I know I’ll visit there no matter what. In spite of Volgograd’s greyness and all the struggles I had there, it will always be my first Russian home. Nothing can replace the streets I walked, nor the cafes, the friends’ apartments, and all the routes I took to reach them. I have vivid memories of transformative experiences in that city and I love it, forever, always, period.

I do have reservations for returning to Volgograd, though. Will I have to have uncomfortable conversations with my two dear friends about where I’m going to stay or how we’ll act around each other? I was single in Volgograd, yet I also had my own dorm room to sleep in. If I visit my friends, can I stay at their homes? Is it culturally acceptable? And what if they aren’t honest with me?

I’ve had a number of close friendships with young men in the past that ended like this: We made our intentions clear and I trusted them, but when I put myself in a vulnerable situation with them, they turned on me. Over and over, they said that my willingness to share a hotel room with them, to talk intimately with them, or even to hug them, was a signal that I wanted romance, regardless of what I’d already told them in plain language. That was with guys of my own culture – and we speak the same language! Or so it seems.

So what’s going to happen when I see these guys in Russia? And ultimately, why am I so concerned about it?

I’m a tiny, insignificant dot in the universe and so are they, but it feels different: I know these dots, I care about them, and apparently when my mind is clear of everyday tasks, one of my main priorities is maintaining the lines that connect us together. Here’s to hoping that their priorities are the same, and that they’re better men than others I’ve known, so I can keep our friendships alive.

Censorship and President Putin’s Approval Rating

You’ve probably heard of Russia’s relatively-new ‘law on bloggers’. It demands that bloggers with at least 3000 subscribers conform to state media regulations and provide personal author information, among other requirements. (I guess my tiny blog is exempt. ^^)

I’ve been reading about Russian censorship, looking for possible links to President Putin’s high approval rating. Here is what I’ve read today with some quotes and commentary. You should read the articles for yourself, too!

Russian Internet Censorship, Social Media Crackdown
Make It Easy For Putin To Stay Popular

The ‘law on bloggers’ bans writers from lying, but ‘lying’ is tricky to define.

“If a blogger insinuates that a public official is corrupt and they can’t provide [proof] they could face very steep fines … It’s certainly not like the American law when you can call President Obama a Nazi Martian and he can’t do anything about it just because he’s a public official.”

Also:

“Starting in September 2016, if U.S.-based companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook want to operate on Russian soil, they must also be prepared to turn over data to Russian security services upon request, without a court ruling or any kind of justification.”

Although I guess Facebook, at least, would be keen to comply, since that creepy company thinks everyone should be completely transparent, anyway. (And would you look at that, I’ve just provided a splendid example of criticism without proof. See how easy it is to violate that rule?)


Russia Moves Toward China-Style Internet Censorship

So in in the near future, data will have to be stored in Russia and will be readily-available to the Kremlin. What are some implications? This Businessweek article says (quoting Matthew Schaaf from Freedom House):

“It could have a serious chilling effect on online expression in Russia, making users stop to think how their Google searches and Facebook posts could be used against them.”

Also note that since February of this year, Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, can take down Web sites they deem “extremist or a threat to public order” (quoting the article.) Indeed, Roskomnadzor blocked sites of parties who were rallying against Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, thus putting this new law into action.


My main question here is: does President Putin’s high approval rating have anything to do with censorship?

Actually, I feel silly for writing that. I think that’s just politics: whoever is in power will do what they can to keep their image in a good light. The right question is: How much does Russia’s censorship affect the approval rating?

Unfortunately, today’s reading hasn’t given me any answers. What I did find was this cool article from Forbes:

Vladimir Putin’s Approval Rate Is Still Near An All-Time High

The author expresses surprise that approval of Putin has actually risen since the “nationalist euphoria over the ‘return’ of Crimea was at its peak.” This article, which is about a month old, cites an out-of-this-world 86% approval rating! But, the author also believes that this approval will fall shortly, assuming Russians will hold Putin accountable for whatever hardships are expected as a result of the sanctions against Russia.

I’ll have to do some more reading to see if anyone has commented on the link between censorship and this incredible 86% approval. Meanwhile, I really hope the Russian people don’t suffer because of all this..

Update: Music Now, and Some for Later

So after about a month in Volgograd, I cracked and bought a cheap guitar. She is black and red, her name is Fantastika, but you may call her Tika.

I’m pleased to say that I ended up buying the guitar from the smallest shop I visited. It was perhaps the size of my dorm room in college; the shopkeeper had maybe 20 guitars in stock. He was friendly and, since I struggled to communicate with him in Russian, I did it through music. It really is the universal language…

I began to play “Old Jacket”, a sort of ballad by Bulat Okudzhava. He was a bard, one I’ve heard be compared to Bob Dylan. The shopkeeper recognized the tune, gave me a surprised smile, and sang along with me. (It’s a beautiful song, sad and sort of funny. I love Regina Spektor’s cover.)

Well, he was so enchanted with me that he gave me a discount on the guitar, plus free strings and guitar picks! Well, alright– I’ll admit that ‘enchanted’ is hyperbole…

I believe he was not just a good salesman, but also genuinely kind. Coming from a skeptic like me, that means a lot. He was so friendly that I wish I had a reason to visit him again, but he gave me all the supplies I need!

I do know I’ll be going back in December to get a gift for my new Russian friend. She’s entirely responsible for this lovely purchase; she’s a Volgograd native and fellow musician. The kind of strings the shopkeeper gave me are made in America and are of the highest quality.. She buys them for herself only as a treat. I think a pack of those strings would be an appropriate “thank-you” gift from me. :)

 

That’s all for this post, but I’d like to let you know what to expect from this blog in the coming weeks! I’ve been listening to a lot of Modest Mouse, and lately I’ve taken to analyzing their songs. I’m going to do a series of posts (anywhere from 10 to 20, who knows!) about my favorites. Keep an eye out!

Love, caprice cake

Yulia and the Lucky Ticket

I love hanging out with Russians, but until I can talk coherently, it’s easier to spend time with them if we have a mission. That’s why Yulia took me out to show me good places to buy a cheap guitar.

I don’t know Yulia’s last name, where she lives and studies, or anything about her personal life. I do know that she has blonde hair and cute little bangs, speaks English (about as well as I speak Russian), and plays the guitar. And I have her phone number. I suppose I have enough details to call her a friend– right? :b

We met up near the city’s center and hopped on a trolley. The “konductor” (ticket-person) took our coins and gave us our tickets, and Yulia, after examining hers for a few seconds, told me,

“One time I got a lucky ticket. And I ate it.”

It took me a moment to understand what she’d said. “Wait. Why did you eat it?”

Pointing to the 6-digit number printed on her ticket, she explained, “When the sum of the first three numbers equals the sum of the last three, it’s lucky.”

“Oh.” Of course, that didn’t explain to me why she ate it, but we rolled along in the trolley and I just rolled with her superstition. After a pause, I asked, “How did you eat it? Did you stick it in a bowl of ice cream or something?”

She laughed. “No. I just–” she made a crumbling motion with her hands and then pretended to pop something in her mouth. “And I ate it. So I could be lucky.” And although she didn’t wink… something in her tone made me feel as if she had.

Yulia: You’re awesome.

Just Like a Russian

My Russian professors keep trying to make me talk about very deep and personal topics in class.

I don’t mind, but… The thing is, I don’t have the vocabulary for it. Lots of these questions are cultural, things like “Why did Americans tend to adopt sick Russian kids instead of healthy ones?” and “Is it true that American children dump their parents into old-people homes?”

When I’m asked these things, the pressure is on. I’ve got three objectives:

1) Speak clearly and intelligently.
2) Don’t offend your professors, even accidentally!
3) Be a positive representative of your nation.

All of these are equally difficult for me right now.

You know… Reading Russian literature (in English) gives me the idea that, in general, these people are quick to philosophize and dive into the deep and the personal. ha, I might not be wrong. :)

Love, capricecake

Bitchy Tram Employee

Дамы и господа, ladies and gentlemen, I have some unsettling news.

According to a statement by the bitchy woman who works in the Ploshad’ Lenina tram station, I, Sasha, am not a student. This shocking realization is the result of my attempt this past Tuesday to obtain a student tram pass.

Sources say that Russians are nice in the street but turn into hateful, two-dimensional versions of themselves when they are clocked into their menial day-jobs.

All this time I thought my student-ID and my university entrance card were proof of my status as a student. I’ve been attending classes, doing homework, and even buying school-lunches in the uni’s cafeteria. Who would have thought that all this time, it was a lie?

I tried to explain to the tram worker that I am a student, but something seems to have been lost in translation. When asked what I could do to rectify the situation, the woman threw up her hands, shouting and glaring at me with incredulous rage. Her coworker, attracted as a dog by the sound of a scuffle, mirrored her in gestures, tone, and beaming hatred.

I suppose that this working-class hero’s discovery means that my Russian visa is invalid and that I shall soon be deported, but, hey, at least I know I would have gotten an A, had my hours in class actually counted for anything…

 

(This has been a very sarcastic news broadcast by Sasha, aka capricecake.)

10 Things I Dislike about Volgograd

As a follow up to the list I just made of 10 things I love about this historic city, here are ten things I really don’t like oh god make them stop.

1. Adjustments. Flyaway emotions and slight weight gain. No, this needs to be done now.

2. Home university screwing up major paperwork. No, this needed to be done months ago.

3. No hot water for four days out of every week. (Apparently we’ll have hot water every day “in the fall.” Not sure when that will actually start?)

4. Being a vegetarian in a culture that still generally doesn’t get it. ha.

5. City danger. At sundown, the drunks come out, and the girls lock themselves inside their homes.

6. Paying for everything myself, like the adult I so wanted to be. I’m used to buying my own food, but buying kitchenware and toilet paper is new. :( Then there are monthly transport and Internet fees…

7. Tied to number six: not being about to work. I’m here on a student visa, but I’d need a work visa for a job. That’s right: I’ve got negative income this year.

8. Missing one person in particular whom I love very much.

9. Having empty conversations with my peers because I lack the vocabulary to talk about anything of substance.

10. Anticipating coming home. I think that’s one of the hardest things about leaving home for a while. Readjustment will be hard, things will have changed without me, and I’ll have changed, too. Nothing will fit right, at least at first.

But, most of these things are not so bad. It took three weeks, but I’m comfortable here. And what’s three weeks, anyway? Moreover, some of these things (like $7 and #10) are thoughts I don’t need to have right now. They’re unchangeable and belong to a time other than the present! So I will carry on.

I hope this isn’t a bummer. I think it provides a nice balance to my gushing “ten things I love” post. ;)

Love, capricecake