Small Victories

Today was Halloween. There was no pumpkin.

I spent the weekend on a wild rollercoaster between feverishly weak and energetically running around to a dozen different stores getting together the things I needed for the Halloween party. I’ve never been so stressed for Halloween! I didn’t know how many people would come, or how active they would be, or what language they would want me to speak…

I shouldn’t have worried, as usual. There were over 25 people there, and even though I decided at the last minute to speak in Russian, everything went smoothly. We played the old classic children’s game of reaching into a bag with a “body part” inside and trying to guess what it really is — a peeled tomato for a heart, a pile of cold spaghetti for brains, grapes for eyes, and a dried apricot for an ear. They loved it.

After all the things I had planned were done, there was an awkward pause that could have gone badly, but they urged me to tell a ghost story, even though I could only do it in English. I chose the only one I remember well, the one about the travelers who stay at a mysterious house for the night and are awakened by a troll in the closet repeating over and over, “Now I’ve got you right where I want you, now I’m gonna eat you!” The punchline is that the troll is picking his nose and talking to his boogers. Figures the only ghost story I know is a funny one.

It went over well, and spurred them on to tell their own stories, most of them true, about spooky or mysterious things that had happened to them or their grandmothers. There were ghostly figures in mirrors and dead grandfathers appearing in photographs and one story about someone swimming away from a concentration camp during the war. I wasn’t able to follow all of the stories, but listening to the way they told them, the phrases they used to start them, the way everyone else recognized the frames, the “Once upon a time”s, was wonderful, sitting there in the candlelit classroom. This is why I went into comparative literature, because I am fascinated by the way people tell stories.

And even though there was no pumpkin, there were rice krispie treats! I may have been the only one who fully appreciated the marshmallowy goodness, but pulling off two batches of homemade rice krispies on the day of the event was quite the triumph for me. Unfortunately, two dozen treats used up all my marshmallows, so I will have to go back to Moscow to get more. Wait… did I say unfortunately?

In other news:

My diplomatic pouch finally arrived in Moscow! The reasons for going back are stacking up!

I have at last arranged to have tutoring sessions once a week with a professor from the Russian department.

Russia is not participating in Daylight Savings Time this year, so after next weekend, I will be 9 hours ahead of the East Coast instead of only 8.

I enjoyed shrimp for the first time yesterday– all I needed was to have it prepared in Russia by a Pole.

There are six inches of snow in central PA and zero in sub-arctic Archangel!

The winners of the mummy race!

What a Day!

What a day, dear readers!

I went out for lunch (pizza!) with one of the Finnish teachers living in the same hotel/dorm as me, and I tried another yummy warm drink traditional to this region of the world– although this time I knew what I was getting myself into, unlike with the sbiten’. This one is called a glitveyn, and apparently they drink it in winter in Scandinavian countries and Germany and here in Arkhangelsk. It’s mulled wine.

After lunch we met up with the Norwegian girl, and we all went to a museum in town with a contingent of Russian teachers intent on showing us the town. It was a lovely outing. The museum is called the Osobnyak, or Palace, on the Embankment. I did not take any pictures there, because it costs 20 rubles PER PICTURE. The three of us non-Russians also had to pay a higher price to get in than the Russian citizens. The museum was nice and well-kept, but not terribly interesting, although I did learn that it was popular to paint men’s studies green at the end of the 1800s.

After the museum, the group split up, and Elena and I went on an EPIC adventure. (Elena is the woman who’s been my contact person since the beginning, and I’ll be working with her classes starting next week). So Halloween is fast approaching, and I have promised a Halloween party as the first meeting of the American Club. And for a Halloween party, we must have a pumpkin! Elena and I went to one grocery store, then took a bus to another, walked through an outdoor market, to a third grocery store, got lost, went to two or three more grocery stores, asking at each one. We found pumpkins that looked like melons, melons that looked like pumpkins, little oval pumpkins, things that looked like squash but were labeled “pumpkin,” one pumpkin that was enormous and a horrible grayish green, and finally one that might do, in a sort of mottled grayish orange shade, but it had some deep nicks in it, and Elena insisted that we must have an unblemished pumpkin. So, the search continues.

Elena left for home, and I continued on to the dorm, but I stopped at one last store on my way, wanting to buy juice. But what I found there was so much better than juice! I know this would be a lovely circular narrative if I were to find a perfect pumpkin, but alas, things don’t work that way in Russia! No, I found MARSHMALLOWS! After spending a good $25 on real American marshmallows in Moscow, here in Arkhangelsk, tucked away in a box underneath one of the candy shelves, I found a bunch of bags of marshmallows. They’re not quite the same texture as American marshmallows, and they are strawberry-flavored, but still! I never thought I’d find such a thing here!

The final excitement of the day is that I have a permanent roommate, finally! More on that later :)

Photographic evidence of the marshmallows: