Tuesday, June 10, 2008

In Which I Check the Calendar

It is June, right?

I expect many of you are using air conditioning, going to your local outdoor swimming pool, wearing short sleeves. Possibly even going outside without socks?

I see that the American Midwest is experiencing a bit of a heatwave, with temperatures in the 90sF.

While it is comfortable inside, over here where we are, outside, as I type, it is a bone-chilling 52F. Overcast, windy. Sheesh. It's COLD.

I was out, hunting for High Class Cat Litter (no luck . . . Fresh Step! I know you are out there!). I saw a toddler in a SNOW SUIT. I have been wearing a SCARF.

It's June, right?

I was going to write about how a warm climate attracts all sorts of loony birds, and a warm Moscow day is no exception. The parks are a magnet for all walks of life, full of people enjoying the extremely long days, soaking up some precious vitamin D.

Walking home from school with the girls, we regularly see men in business suits, enjoying a beer on a bench with colleagues. Young people lounge on the grass under the trees, kissing passionately, or studying, or talking on their mobile phones.

Drunks are everywhere. Sometimes they are passed out on a park bench. Sometimes they lie, flat on their backs, in the grass. Once I saw a man crawling on all fours across the park. Today I saw a man in a green t-shirt, weaving down the street towards me.

But I was worried about him because it's so cold today.

The Spouse and the girls have seen some odd characters on their way to school in the morning. Yesterday, Skittles stayed home (she had a cough that sounded like a seal barking). As Baboo and the Spouse made the trip through the park, they spotted a guy curled up on a bench. A few steps farther on, they encountered a guy on a bench with no pants ("But you couldn't see the jewels," Baboo reported). And on the bench next to him was a guy with no head. Well, he had pulled his head into his jacket, but he was talking to his companion from in there.

These observations led both girls to conclude that they do not want to sit on the park benches because sleeping drunk guys drool there and semi-naked drunk guys park their butts there. No, they would take their chances in the grass, should they ever feel the need to sit in the park.

This morning, the three of them went off to school. Just past the park, they came across a guy, staggering down the hill, in a suit jacket, shirt, and shoes. But no pants. None at all. The girls reported that they could see his butt.

Skittles was thrilled, as she felt she missed out on yesterday's sightings. But she posed the question: how did he lose his pants? After all, he still had his shoes. I'm trying to imagine: You leave your office at Price Waterhouse, stop by the pub for a drink with colleagues, and wake the next morning to find you have no pants at all?

None of us think Bare Bum Guy was a CPA. More likely he is a neighborhood drunk. But still! Do you suppose the No Pants Guy from yesterday stole Bare Bum Guy's pants? Or were they one and the same?

Moscow is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, isn't it?

In keeping with my calendar theme for this entry, I am now counting the days until the girls and I flee this icy tundra for the US. Only 17 days left.

We arrived in mid-December, so I have survived six months here now. I have even made some progress.

I can now say the following things in Russian (meaning, I did not know how to say these things in December):
  • "I don't know."
  • "I know." (But, oddly, this is harder to say. It doesn't roll as trippingly off the tongue, if, indeed, Russian ever moves that spritely.)
  • "I'm sorry . . . I only speak a little Russian."
  • "I'm American." (As spoken by someone female, as opposed to someone male.)
  • "I have . . ."
  • "I want . . ."
I'm not bad with numbers (but I had some help there with Slovak).

And now I can almost always read the Cyrillic alphabet. I can't always pronounce it correctly, but I can read more and more signs. Hurray for me.

Speaking of learning Russian, the French school here has an arrangement with a nearby Russian school (PS 1216 . . . called "1216" by the French). Next year, for the school year, Baboo will go there, with a class of up to 35 French kids. They will have additional Russian lessons (one hour a day), and their gym and music classes will be taught in Russian. It's a very new program, and Baboo will be in the second group to do this.

The pros: superior Russian language skills by the end of the year, at no additional cost to us. I had been stewing about how to add a meaningful amount of Russian lessons, but couldn't figure out how to do it (once a week is not going to make a difference, but, at the same time, you don't want it to take over their after-school lives). No disruption of the regular school curriculum: she will be right on track to enter the French equivalent of junior high the following year. 1216 is just around the corner from Baboo's current school building, so there will be no added hassles of drop off/pick up logistics. Seems like a good thing.

The cons: well, there's the Russian school cantine. Lots of cabbage. No cheese course. This year, the first year of the program, the French kids refused to eat there. (The way the program works, they only eat at that school twice a week anyhow . . . twice a week they come back to the French school building so they can use the library and computer lab, and Wednesdays there will be no school at all.) This rejection caused ill-will with the hosts. Next year the policy will be for the French kids to suck it up, and in the interest of cultural exchange, eat lunch twice weekly at 1216. Having come from the Slovak "crapeteria" experience, we are already familiar with cabbage-heavy cuisine and not intimidated.

Communal toilets. I mean, there is one loo for the boys and one for the girls, but privacy isn't a feature. Just a room with toilets. When the French school approached the 1216 principal last year to say that the French kids were horrified, the 1216 principal could not, for the life of her, figure out why the French kids would care! They're ten years old, for God's sake! The French school offered to build stalls, but the design of the room made that impossible. They'll just have to hold it or deal with it. Again . . . the French school in Bratislava shared space with an existing Slovak elementary school . . .

In an effort to make the French parents feel better about paying French school tuition and having their kids sit in a skunky old Communist classroom, the French school totally remodeled their classroom at 1216, intending that someday this will be a legacy. They have even offered to do other renovations, as well. This went over like a turd in the punch bowl: "What?," the Russians said. "You think you're better than us?"


The possibilities for future blog material here are endless.

Monday, June 9, 2008

In Which We Are Overcome by Fluff

First, ARGH! www.blogger.com is being recalcitrant, and I am unable to move my $%#@ photos around. How annoying.

So, below is the walk in front of our building.

The point of these photos was to show you the poplar "fluff" that is everywhere, lo these past few weeks. It is like clouds of dandelion or milkweed seeds, and it swirls through the air, invading ears and noses, getting stuck in ice cream, on eyeballs. Piles of it gather along the curbs, but also in my apartment corners. Another expat told me how she opened her linen closet and a pile rolled out. I have heard that carelessly tossed cigarettes can cause urban wildfires. Yikes.

Can you see how it is floating in the air and over the sidewalk?

Here, it gathers in the gutter.

Moscow loves pansies. But only the blooming kind.

This is just silliness.

As is this. We celebrated A Decade of Baboo on Saturday. I guess it was also "A Decade Since I Held a Real Job." That's spooky in itself.

Our dining room. I am not responsible for the tartan plaid wallpaper.

Jennifer Lopez perfume! Oooh!

They were remarkably quiet, as a group, and so I barely noticed when they raided my shoe closet and assigned everyone a pair of high heels (no big deal . . . I can't wear them). Next thing I knew, they had all applied lipstick (again, having raided my ample stash) and were strutting, FIERCELY, across the living room floor.

The downside was that the shoes made black marks on the floor. Not the girls' fault: anyone could have done it. So I took what I thought was some wood floor cleaner (I bought it to use on the dining room table), and scrubbed up the marks. They all came up, pretty much without a struggle.

But that wood cleaner? It's a wax.

Now we are all sliding and skidding around corners. Even the cat.