Autumn in Moscow

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Ms. P’s Grade 6 Advisory #yikes

Rarely do I have a day so filled with fun as well as two adventures that could not be more different from each other. Tuesday began like any other. I hopped the bus to school with my coworkers (commuting with coworkers – definitely a skill I’m working on), but I grabbed my backpack as I headed out the door. My students and I were headed for our first field trip and it promised to be a bonding experience.

We headed for Meshchersky Park, a 45-minute drive from school in fairly heavy traffic (seems there is always traffic in Moscow). A handful of these so-called “panda parks” can be found around the city. These parks are usually found in the woods and feature multiple ropes courses of varying levels of difficulty. The panda part – while never actually explained – comes from the scampering and tree climbing, evidently.

It was surprisingly chilly in the park, a sure sign that autumn is upon us. The leaves are already changing and the grey skies threaten rain interspersed with moments of gorgeous sunlight. We got the run down for the day from our guides. The directions were in Russian, of course, so only about 1/4 of the kids understood and only one adult – good start. I am all too used to this from my time in Korea. Directions? Psshhaw.

My advisory (homeroom) group, 8 kids I see every day, was assigned a fairly difficulty course to begin with. Wobbling over log bridges and zip-lining from tree to tree (only a handful of collisions), the kids showed great determination to test their strength and agility. While calls of “Ms. P!” echoed from tree to tree, I craned my neck to watch them scurry like monkeys, 50 feet in the air.

As we used to say in Korea, “safety third”, and this ropes course was no exception. With my feet planted firmly on the ground, I was called in for pep talks – the kiddo caught in the middle of a rope swing, crying out of frustration/desperation. Not two minutes later, after figuring out his harness wouldn’t let him fall, that same kiddo was swinging rope to rope, singing to himself with glee.

It was a great excursion for all of us – even James, my little Korean bud who, despite having been airlifted down from a course he couldn’t handle, kindly offered me some of his kimbap lunch made by his mother. All in all, an awesome time with a great crew of kids. I feel lucky to have them to watch over.

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Dabbing it out.

Normally a day like that would have put me in bed early, but Tuesday night I had better plans. I hopped on the metro at Kievskaya and headed out for the northeast part of Moscow. Still shocked at how small downtown Moscow is, the requisite six stops flew by and I surfaced in the middle of a beautiful tree-lined square in a posh part of town. Finding my group (a number of older teachers who I don’t know yet), we made our way to the Opera House. Next door to the Opera stood a majestic wooden door, framed by sculptures of baby angels in the surrounding archway.

Entering a door on the third landing, we immediately fell down the rabbit hole. The foyer was lush, owing to its dark wood trim, oriental rugs, and Victorian loveseats. Following the gentle din of voices, we turned to enter an immense studio, bathed in light from its chandeliers. The parquet floor was splattered with oil paint, green and black.

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The airy nature of the studio led us to jealously surmise what incredible natural light must fill the space during the day, shown only in the hint of blue light still visible as the sun set.

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An artist’s workbench holds many secrets.

My eyes immediately flew to the brightly colored works lining the lower walls. Almost comic in their intensity, the paintings contrasted the elegant Victorian walls perfectly, invoking the image of the Paris Salon of 1905.

One of my favorite Art History stories to share involves a band of renegade painters led by Andre Derain and Henri Matisse. The year was 1905 and the annual autumn Salon was on in Paris. Derain and Matisse, having departed from the Impressionists and painted wild new landscapes full of blood red rivers and neon green skies, submitted their works for consideration. The original bohemian wild children of the 20th Century reveled in their shock-and-awe campaign.

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Andre Derain

Picture, if you will, a chaotic scene of artworks such as the one above stacked six rows in the air. The Salon facilities, housed in the Palais des Beaux-Arts on the Champs-Elysees, were designed in the style of 17th Century French architecture, featuring Greco-Roman finishes and little Italian cherubs, called putti, in the corners.

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An 18th Century Salon but you get the idea…

Upon entering the exhibition, the general public gasped in horror. An abomination! An outrage! Where were the waterlilies of Monet that they had finally accepted as their contemporary art? What were these futuristic eyesores full of color and bold brushstrokes? How horrible, the people remarked, for the paintings, those wild beasties, were scaring the angelic putti! That, my friends, is how the Fauves – the “wild beasties”, got their name.

Back in Alexander Aisenshtat‘s studio, it was immediately apparent that Alexander is himself a modern day Fauve – from the putti above his doorframe to the brash intensity his paintings imbue. Marching to the beat of his own drummer, he takes inspiration from religious Jewish texts, which he plays on a record player in his studio, and creates secular works in bold formation.

While we did have the chance to meet Alexander at the end of the evening, we were first treated to a lecture by his good friend, a scholar of Russian Art History. While the paintings were charming, I have to say that the two featured musicians – a cellist and a violinist – absolutely stole the show.

As my eyes surfed the room during a Bach concerto, the ambiance left me in total awe. I feel so lucky to have an experience like this, not only so soon in my Russian adventure but as a treasured memory of my time here.

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Alexander’s sitting room.

Like so many of my days living and teaching abroad, this day was chock-full of adventures and surprises. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to combine my two loves – teaching and art – and I look forward to the experiences yet to come.

 

Step into the matrix

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The skies over Moscow have been particularly beautiful. Reminds me a bit of Edinburgh.

At the end of my second week here in Moscow, I’m starting to get a feel for my day-to-day life. Tuesday the kids arrive and that is when the rubber really hits the road. My classroom is nearly ready and I’ve finally stopped getting lost when walking around my school. Starting to get my bearings. Here’s a few things I’ve noticed so far…

10 cool things about life here in Moscow:

  • My school has a forest. That basically makes me Hermione. Or is my school Durmstrang?
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Krum.
  • I have an assistant, which is totally insane. I share him with two other art teachers and he is pretty awesome. His name is Tamil and he’s originally from India. He’s fluent in Russian so it makes getting things done 100% faster at school.
  • I do not have to take out the trash. There is a trash shoot in my hallway.
  • Having a gym and pool at my school is THE BEST. I cannot say how great it is to blow off seam after school. A 5 minute walk from my classroom and I’m there. I look forward to it all day. Soon the school Wellness program will start – yoga, spinning, pilates. Really looking forward to it.
  • They park on the sidewalk here. It makes the Boston in me proud.
  • The Lada! These Old Soviet cars are everywhere and they are the cutest!
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Small but mighty and oh so chic!
  • Hearing Cher and Air Supply on the radio. They are serious about the 80s here. Also Big Willy Style was playing at IKEA last weekend. Yikes.
  • They have special stairs for strollers to get to the metro. Brilliant!

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  • Scooters are cool again! Adults and kids alike scoot all over the place.
  • The Everything Store next door sells hover boards.
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I can’t see a hoverboard and not think of The Biebs…

The not-so-cool things (it can’t be all puppies and rainbows, after all…):

  • International teaching can be a little like freshman year of college, bringing out different sides of people. Takes a while to weed through the fray 🙂
  • Beggars at the train station, startling me during my meal – they come right up beside you at the outdoor cafes and ask for money
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My favorite dinner spot – Centrale – serves surprisingly good pizza alongside excellent people watching.

I learn a little more about this corner of the world each day. There’s so much to see and I’m really enjoying the vibe. I’m surprised by the safety I’ve found here and how truly European this city seems to be. Looking forward to getting out and exploring this weekend with some new friends. More to come…

Pearl in Sandbox

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Gorky Park, just a subway stop from my house, boasts bike paths in the summer and skating paths in the winter along with swan boats and ice cream stands.

I think I’ve uncovered a little gem, here on the edge of Europe. My first weekend in Moscow was lovely. I spent a rainy Friday evening at a nearby restaurant with my new neighbors, enjoying Georgian wine (they’re famous for it) and delicious meat (lamb, chicken, pork) and good conversation. In the corner, someone played an upright piano lit by candlesticks that burned on each side. It proved a cozy spot to wind down after a day packed with new faces, places, and experiences.

We newbies were about 15 in number on the Friday morning bus ride to school. Incredibly, the school provides us with transportation to and from our apartments, multiple times each morning and afternoon. As we chatted amongst ourselves, I was looking forward to a glimpse of my new school. I was anxious to step into my classroom and experience it for myself.

As the bus crested the front hill, we were astonished to find a good 30 of our new colleagues cheering our arrival. Dancers in traditional Russian dress marched forward to welcome us.

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Our dancers, in a picture courtesy of my school.

They slipped ribbons of sushki around our necks and spun us around in time with the music.

We were then offered bread and asked to dip it in a cup of salt. This symbolizes our host’s wish that this be the only bitter taste left in our mouths during our stay. Also, salt is believed to protect against evil forces. Cheers to that!

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The traditional welcoming ceremony known as Bread&Salt.

Following the welcome, the school tour did not disappoint. With beautiful facilities and a wealth of resources, I am very excited to experience life as a Penguin. My classroom even boasts a balcony off the back for some plein air studio time! Big windows and great closets – an art teacher’s dream. Nothing can beat my room in SoKo – fishbowl and all – but this one has a lot of promise.

Here are a few photos of my new apartment (click for captions). With my shipment still in transit, the walls are oddly stark, but I look forward to a Christmas in September when everything arrives.

As I sit in the piazza opposite Kiev Station, the chilly evening rain brings with it the promise of winter ahead. I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t share that I had definite apprehensions about coming to live in Russia. Rumors about the cold – both the winters but also on the faces of the people – dogged my mind. I knew the job would be a good one and would afford me the lifestyle and location I desired, but I honestly had no idea what my time outside of school hours would bring.

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The view of modern Moscow City from my kitchen window.

I am pleasantly surprised to say my fears were unfounded (aside from 60 degree weather in August!). I have found the people here in Moscow to be highly receptive and thoughtful. From my grocer to our taxi driver today, kindness is evident. Smiles may not be on constant display but actions speak louder. As I learned in Asia, it’s very American to expect complete strangers to smile at you when you’re out and about. Respect and kindness can be shown in other, equally powerful ways.

Now this is not to say that I haven’t had my moments. I’m about 50/50 on grocery purchases tonight ~ that definitely wasn’t milk… and, Oh! Cottage cheese instead of yogurt. But this past week has reminded of how important it is to abstain from judgement without proof, especially when such judgements encompass a whole people, religion, or country. People and places have a way of surprising you, if your heart is open and your aim is true. This fine city is certainly making me feel welcome.

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Sunset over Moscow.