Today was the last day of lectures for my American history class. Pictured here are the students who showed up for the last day. I was so impressed with these students throughout the semester — they know their American history. For every topic I ever brought up, somebody knew something about it in the class. For example, during my lecture on Hippies I had a picture of Timothy Leary, and someone in class knew who he was. Amazing. On top of everything else, these students had to take the entire class in a foreign language. They are brilliant, I think, and they have made quite an impression on me. Of course, they knew their history so well because the had awesome professors, obviously. Pictured second from the left is one of those professors, Rustam, who came to all of my lectures.
Here is the latest movie advertisement to go up at the theater I walk by each day. A quick Google search tells me the name of the movie in America is “Mother’s Day.” In Russia, it is called “Obnoxious Lady,” or at least that is the Google translation. In some countries, American movies are shown as originally produced, but with subtitles in the local language. In Russia, they have actors record the lines in Russian, so there are no subtitles.
Ann and Jake leave America to come back to Ufa in a couple days, and they will be here Thursday night. I am enjoying my adventure in Russia, but it will be better when they get here…
From 10 am until almost noon yesterday, there was a program to honor the first rector (provost). He was quite a visionary, having served the university for 27 years (from the 1950s to the 1980s) and he expanded the university to its present size. From what I understand, many of the buildings, including academic sites, dormitories, and office space was constructed under his guidance. The program was quite interesting, and his family was invited to the program and a few spoke to the audience. There were a few people that had worked with the rector at the program as well, speaking about their experiences working with the man and generally bringing a new generation of students up to speed on how we got to where we are.
I wish that my Russian was better so that I could have followed along a little closer (it is pretty awful in truth) but I still enjoyed the presentation. I was most impressed with the fact that, all these years later, people still remember and appreciate what he did. I was also very impressed with the architecture inside the auditorium. It was very grand, and the light fixtures were just beautiful.
When I walked into the university yesterday, there was quite a bit of excitement connected with the education conference in honor of the first rector. Here there are students dressed in traditional clothing and singing, what I can only assume, are traditional regional songs. When I first walked in, it felt like I was back at Walmart with people greeting me as I walked into the lobby. Bashkir State really knows how to have a celebration, and it was exciting to be a part of it.
While the students were singing traditional songs in the center of the lobby, students in costume were off to the side of the room, preparing for their performance. Here, the men are dressed as soldiers, the uniforms looked to be of World War II vintage, and the ladies were dressed as you can see. There are quite a few groups that practice dancing in the open area just above the lobby entrance, so I am guessing that these students had a dance number to welcome guests. I didn’t get to see it, but I wish I had.
Today is an education conference at the university, and all of the papers have been published in this nice booklet. I am presenting a paper on the high cost of college tuition in America, and how 2-year colleges are a great option for students to reduce their student loan debt at the end of their studies. The program starts at 10 am and runs through 5 pm, with a timeout for lunch and then dinner follows the conference. The name of the conference is “Modernization of Higher Education in Russia: The Experience of History and the Vectors of Development.” The conference is in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the first rector (provost) at the university. I am looking forward to this event, which I think will be interesting.
A nice day yesterday, in between rain showers. This is was a nice scene looking across the valley from the university at the statue of Salavat Yulaev. The leaves were coming out, the grass was green, and it was a great day to get outside for a few minutes. In front of the university is a garden about 40 yards long full of Tulips (I think) that is just about to bloom. That will make a nice picture, which I will be sure to post
Of course, when compared to when we first arrived in Ufa in January, quite a few thing have changed. the shot below was taken from a little different angle, but you can see that snow was the name of the game at that time.
Someone planted their entire front yard in bulbs. This is going to be very pretty when the flowers are all in bloom. As it is, you can see a number of flowers already and you can see that several more are developing. When the whole yard is in bloom, this will be quite a sight. There is a garden in front of the university with a different kind of bulb, that has already grown much higher than these plants. I hope they bloom too, as that would make quite a picture. When I saw these plants, I remembered that the people who lived there spent a fair amount of effort shoveling the snow off of their front yard and threw it on the sidewalk. I didn’t understand it at the time, but now it makes sense.
Walking along the route to the university yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice the leaves breaking out everywhere. The grass is turning green, and air is warm, and people are milling about, just enjoying the weather. I wake up to birds chirping in the morning just outside my window. Maybe it will get old at some point, but I am enjoying it so far. It’s a great time to be alive. I’ve said for years that I probably would get pretty bored of nice weather all the time. (But a week in San Juan or Key West over Christmas break is okay too!) When you live in Minnesota, or Russia, you have a long and rough winter at times, but that is the only way to really appreciate spring.
Out and about this weekend, I found this plane outside the Aeronautical University. I used to identify airplanes for a living, and I could be wrong, but I think this is the Mig-19.
Anyway, lots of time to think while out walking, which is good and bad. It got me to wondering what this Russia experience has been about. How do I define it? Has it been life-changing? In what way? I can make lists of differences between the US and Russia, but which are important? I guess I’ll have to think on it some more.
The weather today in Ufa is just beautiful. At 9:30 in the morning it is already 55 degrees. It is the kind of day that begs for a walk, probably with no definite destination in mind. Somewhere along the way, I need to buy a zont, or umbrella. (Don’t ask me why I remember that one.) Which reminds me of a story: A Russian friend came into my office, so I stood and met him in the doorway and offered my hand. He invited me into the next room where he shook my hand, and then explained that it was considered bad luck in Russia to shake hands in a doorway. I wondered at the origins of this and then said that this sounded similar to our fear of opening an umbrella indoors; it is considered bad luck. He thought that was very strange. Two cultures, working to understand each other. Mr. Fulbright, you have done it again!
Today is sunny and 72, but all next week we have a good chance of rain and the last thing I need is to get sick again. While out and about, I’ll try and find something interesting to take a photo of.
Ok, maybe magic is not the right word when it comes to my writing. Let’s just say that this is where I sit around a lot, banging away on the laptop. Of course, the most important thing is the coffee cup for tea, the tea press to the right, and honey to the left. There is an empty Coke Zero bottle and some empty water glasses also on the table. (Which reminds me, I need to clean before Ann gets back.) Anyway, I plan to spend all weekend writing and editing.
I posted a few weeks ago that I have a book under contract with NDSU Press, and we are busy working away at the revisions. None of the changes the reviewers and editorial staff want are hard, but getting my hands on new sources is often a challenge, but Ann has helped out, a lot. Like most historians, I am very good at buying books on Amazon.com, then Ann can scan important chapters into a .pdf and email them to me. Other books are available through Kindle for download, which is really convenient too. So, I should have a draft ready to send to the press by the time I get home, next month. Hard to believe we are counting down about 5.5 weeks until we leave Russia.
You can do it! Every day I walk by these trees, and you can’t help but notice the buds. In fact, many of the branches round Ufa are right at eye level, so unless you want to go through life with a cool nickname like “Patch,” you have to pay attention. Pretty soon, there will be leaves all over the place. Golly!
You don’t have to live in the states to recognize this movie, but it is still a treat to see the movie posters written in Russian. I sometimes sound out the names written phonetically in Russian to figure out who the actors are. Simple minds, simply amused I guess. That would drive Ann nuts if she had to stand there while I sounded out names to see who starred in a movie I was never going to watch.
The Russian and American cultures are connected in ways I would not have imagined in Ufa. Maybe in Moscow I could picture the American fast food places, but here in Ufa there are McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC restaurants at regular intervals, and American movies are quite popular. I discuss The Walking Dead with one of the professors I work with, while another friend couldn’t sleep the night before House of Cards, Season 4 was available. Don’t even get me started on Game of Thrones. People love it here. We really are not so different, are we?
Ann got the Letters of Invitation to come back to Russia yesterday, so she and Jake will be here in about two weeks. Many of you already know the story, but for those of you who don’t, here you go: Our son Jake has Crohn’s Disease, and he has to have infusions every 8 weeks to control it. So, Jake and Ann needed to go back to the US several times during our stay in Russia. We were very clear with everyone involved that we had a special case, but the Russian bureaucracy doesn’t do special cases, which we figured out only after we got here. When we came to Russia we had single-entry visas good for 90 days. Ann and Jake could leave whenever they wanted, but they couldn’t come back to Russia until the first visa expired and they issued another. So, I’ve been here for about 7 weeks by myself, but the most important thing is that we will be together soon, and that I have had the opportunity to live an amazing experience in a wonderful country and meet many new friends. I miss my cat though, who seems to be getting along just fine without me.
It is finally spring in Ufa! Last Thursday was the really last, worst day for weather. It was about 35 degrees and raining, so of course that was the day the immigration office called and said that I needed to pick up my extended visa. All told, I walked 6.5 miles and got thoroughly soaked. I came home and took a hot shower, put on layers of warm clothes and had several pots of hot tea. I was hoping I had dodged a bullet, but no such luck. I have been sick as a dog since Saturday. The good news is that the weather has been fabulous ever since Friday, with temps into the 50s and 60s every day. Almost all snow is gone in the city, even where there were huge piles. Nice.
By way of comparison, here is the same street a month ago, although looking in the opposite direction.
There was quite a crowd waiting to get their blood pressure checked this morning. (I waited a while to get a good photo.) This is just a great idea, having these informal clinics to help people identify potential health problems. One of the interesting aspects of this photo is the coat-check operation going on in the background. This is a very Russian thing. Nice restaurants will have a coat-check, even the ballet and the hockey arena had a coat-check service. I must say it makes things a whole lot more convenient not having to carry a coat around, but makes for a bit of planning when the event is over, as you must then stand in line with everyone else to retrieve your coat. I usually just carry mine. I would rather get away quickly at the end, and don’t mind the bother.
The Russians don’t get a lot of love when it comes to recognizing the great meals they prepare. In America we love Mexican food, Chinese, Italian, etc. The number of Russian restaurants are pretty rare, which is too bad, because the Russians make some truly outstanding dishes. Although great, someone like me with my health issues should not eat a lot of Russian cuisine. So, I enjoy going to this restaurant where I can get a heaping plate of salad or vegetable dishes and nobody asks a lot of questions. By the way, this is not an all-you-can-eat buffet. Its more of a cafeteria style, but it is very popular.
It is amazing some of the things you find when the snow melts. This is a small monument in a small park that I pass on the way to the university. It might just look like some funny balls with funny lines drawn on them, but this is actually a three dimensional representation of the name of the city, Ufa, written in the Bashkir language. In fact, many stores and signs around the city are still written in the traditional letters. As you can see, the last two letters are identical, as the name of the city used to be pronounced, Uh-F-Uh, or something similar. Take a look at the “Rosetta Stone” that translate three languages. Russian is on the left, Bashkir (that uses a lot of the Russian alphabet) is in the center, and English is on the right.
So I get to the university today, and I couldn’t help but notice a number of students outside, shoveling snow off of the grass and moving it around so it would melt quicker. I had to get a few photos of this. When I got inside, I mentioned to my friend Radmir that this seemed silly to me. He didn’t understand, so I explained, “For three months I have been walking on sidewalks covered with ice and snow, and nobody cared. I nearly died a thousand times walking on those sidewalks and nobody did anything to clear them off. Now people go outside to shovel snow off of the grass?” He threw his head back and laughed. “Ah,” he said, “This makes no sense.” He nodded his head and concluded, “Eta Roo-see-ya.” (It is Russia).
I was invited to the Ufa Archeological Museum to give a talk on writing regional history. I did not have to have a translator because everyone on staff at the museum spoke at least three languages: Russian, English, and at least one other language. I enjoyed the talk and the questions that followed very much, and then Sasha was kind enough to give me a tour of the museum. To my surprise, on display were 21 individual exhibits made of solid gold. These had just been on loan to one of the major museums in New York, and now they are on loan to the museum in Ufa. First, not everyone gets to see the gold exhibit, so I was very fortunate to get in. Second, I couldn’t help but notice the security looks it could be overcome by a crack team of operatives who could plan a heist, getting in and out before the police could respond. Just saying.
The mammoth was cool too. At the feet of this adolescent female is a tooth from a full grown male. It was huge, and very heavy. You can see in the display cases behind the skeleton some pottery and arrow heads excavated from the local area.