Friday, October 31

Take me home, country roads

Remember how I was mugged this summer, which resulted in me no longer having a driver's license or ATM card. Well, in an amazingly painfree process, I got a new driver's license from the state of Georgia. And it's valid for 10 years! I still haven't bothered with BoA to try and get a new ATM card. I'm still mad at them for not sending me a new one after I was mugged - geeze, obviously I hold grudges.

Anyway, it was vital to get the new license as in my on-going traveler insanity, I decided to add a quick trip up to Ohio to see my relatives. To make it easier to see everyone, I rented a car - which necessitates having a license. I'd forgotten how fun it is to drive! And it's so beautiful here right now. All the leaves are gold and red. It's crisp but not freezing (though apparently they had snow 2 days before my arrival). In the drive to Cousin Mark's house, I discovered that a few wineries have opened near by! I'm going to check those out today.

Last night my dad's siblings gathered for dinner so I could see everyone. It was really nice. My Aunt Rose brought some photos of my family she'd discovered in my grandmother's files. It was a great night.

I spent 2 hours chatting with my lone remaining grandparent, my mother's mother. She's still very with it, fiercely independent and well traveled. We talked about her trips to Poland and the UK, about politics (this conversation far less painful than discussions that occur on my father's side) and my favorite topic, food. Tonight, I'll return to her house to help hand out Halloween candy.

Wednesday, October 29

Sweet Home right-next-to-Alabama

So I made it on Monday's flight. My sister picked me up and we headed straight to Lohemann's. After spending a fair bit of money, we met up with my parents for sushi at Nagoya, our local sushi place in the suburbs. It was great as always.

Yesterday, I got up at 4:30, this after sleeping only a few hours on the plane and forcing myself to stay awake until 10:30! Stupid jet lag. Watched the South Park movie which was a huge mistake, because the rest of the day I was singing "Kyle's Mom's a ..." well, you know. Finally the rest of the family was awake and I could hang out with them. My sister came to get me around noon and we headed off for yet more shopping. I think I've now bought enough to fill my suitcase.

I helped her out by babysitting for one of her "families" - my sister is a nanny. So she could go to her other job. The yard was littered with cut out black cats and witches. But the scariest part of all was the McCain/Palin sign in the front yard. It was hard for me to even go into the house. But then it got scarier still. There was a "sexual intimacy" phamplet sitting out on a side table that has 6 bible lessons to be used in conjunction with a dvd on how to be sexually intimate with your heterosexual marriage partner. My dad picked me up and I realized to my horror that even after 8 years of the shrub as president, my family is still... don't hate me... republican . Oh the horror.

Somehow I'll survive. I mean I survived sharing my sister's bed with her (fine) and her 80 pound bulldog who farts and snores in his sleep (less fine). Today's plan is... no, not more shopping, but instead to get my haircut and other beauty treatments. Tonight we're going out for steak, yummy, yummy steak.

Tomorrow I head to Ohio to see the relatives. Ooh, that reminds me to go priceline a rental car.

It's nice being home.

Sunday, October 26

When luck runs out

Normally, I have insanely good traveler luck. So, back when my sister was visiting and her friend offered me buddy passes, I canceled the ticket I had bought for October break and took her up on the offer - business class here I come. The catch was that the flight was crowded on Saturday, so it was best to wait until Sunday. Sure, extra day in Moscow, no worries. So today, I went to the airport today optimistic that I would get on the oversold flight to Atlanta even though I was flying stand-by. Really, I should have just used my common sense and not gone out to Sheremyetevo at all - by all that is holy do I hate that airport. However, I went. And then I found out yesterday's flight was canceled (the one I was originally booked on!) I was told to wait until the flight boarded to see if there were seats. So I sat and knit. And tried to restrain myself from kicking the screaming children running laps in front of me.

Finally at departure time, they tell the 7 of us waiting to get on the flight, that we're not getting on, but tomorrow looks good. Let's hope so, I'm only giving it one more shot.

However, I learned that taking the public bus from the airport to the metro, while it only costs a dollar takes an HOUR and 45 MINUTES! Sheer, painful, cold (I didn't bring a jacket since I have one in Atlanta that I want to remember to bring back, however, it's only 6 today) hell.

So here I sit, grading papers, updating my blog on the second day of October break.

I must have more interesting things to say, it's been so long since I've posted. Well, in sheer insanity, even though I hate this city, I love my job so much that I think I'll be staying a third (and final) year. So those of you who thought you couldn't make it out while I'm here, still have a chance. Start looking for tickets now... they're cheap. Bree just got a direct flight to NYC for only $675 round trip!

Oh, that reminds me of more exciting news. Natasha is coming to the states with me for x-mas holidays. We're spending a week in the south then heading to Vegas for New Year's and then to California for a few days. Woo hoo.

Oh, and did I mention the unintentional reclaimed viriginity has been taken care of... probably not. But I was tempted to call a future post "Sexing it up" just for The Prettiest Denny's Waitress.

Tuesday, October 14

Hostess with the Mostest

Nate, Vero and Petter arrived September 12th. The day after they left, my sister, her friend Schera, Schera's two sons, Dawson and Garrett, arrived. A full day and a half after they left, Mama Pajama arrived. She left today, October 14th, a full 4 and a half weeks later.

Revolving door. You betcha. Am I burnt out, well, yes, I'm a bit crispy around the edges. Those edges have been snapping off rather easily when my students annoy me. However, I was getting really used to having people to come home to. I already miss Mama P.

Obviously, I did no blogging while people were here. I turned my office into a guest bedroom by putting the mattress from the pull out sofa in here. I was only coming in to get to the laundry room.

It's always interesting to look at Moscow through a visitor's eyes. Here's a story from 8 year-old Dawson about their first night, the one I called "Music or Noise":

And here's a great post from Mama P about our banya experience entitled "I just Picked Dried Cottage Cheese off of my Face": (I hope she doesn't mind me reposting it here...)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I Just Picked Dry Cottage Cheese off of my Face

Even better, I'd put it here on purpose AND I paid good money to do it. :)

Em, her friend Natasha and I were Russians today. Well, Natalie *is* actually Russian, but Em and I got to be honorary Russians. Naked honorary Russians. We went to something called a banya, or a traditional sauna. Or as it kind of seemed at times, a kind of group, DIY day spa.

My first impression of this particular place was of a lobby-like room, with long, high-backed leather benches, high ceilings, wood wainscoting, and brass fixtures. For a moment, it apeared as though we'd stepped back in time to a 19th century hotel. Except that, unlike most hotel lobbies I've been in, this one was hosting nearly a dozen women draped in only towels or birthday suits, having, you know, tea.

Having all of my preconceptions of the day pretty much squelched immediately upon this sight, I knew I was going to spend the rest of the morning following the lead of Em and Norma. Turns outhe lobby was vack where we paid and dropped of our coats. But even with that knowledge and having the lockers hiding in the wainscotting pointed out to me - and keep in mind, not 5 feet from us a woman in only a thong was applying her makeup in a mirror - my brain had decided that this was a hotel lobby and I could barely take off my clothes. As I slowly peeled off my pants, I expected people to start screaming and the police to storm in and haul me away for indecent exposure. I wrapped myself up in my sheet as quicky as I could. So much for my career as a stripper.

Once undressed, we passed through the frosted glass door into a large, high-ceilinged, white tiled room. Naked women of all shapes and sizes were scattered about; some taking showers in open stalls, some clustered around low benches scrubbing themselves vigorously, and some pouring buckets of water over their heads. We hung up our towels, and aimed for the wooden door leading to the sauna. I got to practice my eye contact as we walked in; a woman bobbed vigorously in a barrel-like cold plunge next to the door, making her breasts piston up and down. Even having breasts myself and knowing what silly things they can be at times, I had to bite the inside of my mouth to keep from bursting into laughter. That had not been a particular sight I'd been planning to take in in Moscow.

The sauna room was pretty impressive structurally. I'm used to small-ish enclosures at spas, maybe holding 4-6 people max. Now, I laugh at their puny saunas with derision. Ha! Ha! Ha! Or at least I would, had my lungs not been burned off and sizzled into pork rinds inside my chest. FUCK was that thing hot! Seriously, I walked in, climbed the steps to the sitting area, stood there for about two seconds before I had to cover my face with a towel so I could breathe, and then marched back to the bottom of the steps where the temperature was only on broil, and not char. I'm sure that 20' square floor-to-ceiling oven had nothing to do with it. I had a brief moment of panic; it was too hot and there was no way I was going to be able to do this. Em - who was calmly sitting there, y'know, breathing - assured me it did take some getting used to, and to just ease myself into it.

And after only a handful of minutes, most women came out and back into the main tiled room, where cold water was applied to the body in one of several fashions. Never before had I been so eager to douse myself with icy water and I jumped into the cold plunge pool (never fear; no pistoning breasts.) And really, once your body is numb, its easier to stand the heat of the sauna, so back and forth we went. (I never could go in without breathing through the towel, though.) The icy cold and the screaming hot eventually start to balance each other out. I joked with Em that it was like vodka and pickles.**

Then comes the DIY part. After you've been sweating yourself clean in the sauna (and possibly beaating yourself with branches of oak leaves at the same time,) its time to scrub down your body with some sort of cleansing agent that you've brought. And by cleansing agent, I of course mean food product. Homemade body scrubs aren't just the thing; they're the norm. Some people use straight coffee grounds, while others mix together paste-like substances. We were a little poor with our preparing; we simply had sea salt and oatmeal, which we just grabbed with our bare hands and started rubbing on our bodies. I think the last time I probably did something like that I was younger than Mags, and I'm betting I probably got a scolding for it. But once you (ok, I) struggled through the fact that the oatmeal was starting to get kind of creamy on your body and is-anyone-else-reminded-of-eating-instant-cereal-on-cold-winter-school-mornings-in-Wisconsin?, it *was* rather pleasant. Then a good rinse***, and back for another round of sauna-ing.

After every 20-30 minutes of spa-ing, we'd head back to the not-lobby. It was during one of these breaks that I was introduced to the cottage cheese (thought I'd forgotten about that, eh?) Nancy had it mixed in with several other ingredients she'd included in her home made facial. We took turns going over to the Thong Mirror and painted the mess onto our faces, and then sat back down and had tea. Obviously cameras were not really something to take to a public spa, but really, the three of us sitting around a marble-topped table having tea and cookies, with egg literally on our faces and sporting a bad case of cottage cheese acne to boot -- damn. Quite a sight to behold, although I'm sure there's some German fetishist group out there somewhere that would've paid good money for those pix.

I got limper and limper every time we took a break. And not surprising; we were there for 3 hours. So. Incredibly. Relaxing. After a while, I didn't really care that lying down on the long leather benches was maybe a bit passe. With every pore in our bodies rinsed out, we all willed our muscles back into life, lotioned up, and struggled back into our clothes.

Good lord. I'm getting relaxed just thinking about it.

Like several new things I've experienced on this trip, I wish I had time to give it a second try. I was lucky in my experience with the St. Petersburg train; it was awkward and uncomfortable not knowing what to do or where to go or how things worked in getting there, but I got to pair that up with a good memory of knowing what to do (and not looking like an idiot) on the ride home. It'd be great to re-do the banya experience, not only to have another drool-inducing morning of relaxation, but again to be able to pair it up with an experience where I felt more like I knew what I was doing. Guess I'll just have to come back then, won't I?

Oh, and appologies to Em's friend Nadine, who's name I could never quite remember and therefore never addressed unless she was looking right at me.

** Vodka consumption in Russia: Shots of vodka are (apparently) often served with a plate of pickled vegetables. After a picked weapon of choice is selected and in hand, a toast is made with the vodka. The you take a sip, raise the pickled [vegertable] to your nose, take a sniff of it, swallow the vodka, and then pop the vegetable into your mouth. Chew. Just sniffing the pickled-ness of the veggie starts to calm down the alcohol in your mouth, and mixed together in your throat, the booze cuts the pickle-ness of the food and the pickle cuts the burn of the booze. They basically completely neutralize each other so that all you are left with is a tasty, tender vegetable. Sounds fairly disgusting at first, but one of my favorite things that I've learned while here. Its like a magic trick with food. :)

*** Note to self: for furture reference, 'a good rinse' includes remembering that all of the oatmeal rubbed onto your body washes down and tends to gather in -ta da! - your pubic hair. For future reference, locking the bathroom stall door before sitting on the toilet and batting at said oatmeal with spread legs is also a good idea. That poor woman.