Monday, 1 October 2012

Bridges, Chekhov and the Children's Embassy

 So I have had a fairly exciting week and a very exciting weekend, which was dampened slightly by the lack of Internet and very literally by the huge amount of rain. Even living in London, I have rarely seen so much water, which pools on the uneven pavements and roads.

Challah, on a pirate party plate. And what of it?
Tuesday dusk marked the start of Yom Kippur, for which I fasted and managed to get some fresh, soft challah from a bakery van in Sennaya Ploshad' for 46r (£0.92). I also broke fast with a double Picnic. I have heard tell of a triple bar but so far this is just a distant legend.

I also joined the State library, which was not the ordeal which we were warned about. Of course they required all our original dokumenty and to take a photo on the spot (a warning about that would have been nice) but otherwise the staff were very helpful, the interior large and intimidating and the doors were incredibly tall and heavy.

This was also on the side of the library
On Friday night we finally got ourselves out to see the rising of the bridges. Having checked the bridge timetable in a guidebook, we arrived with time to spare to see the Palace bridge rise at 1.25 am. Obviously, when we got there at 1.05 am it already looked like this:

It was very pretty nonetheless and as I had my camera, it was fun to experiment with the gap:

There is a tradition in St Petersburg for newly-weds to sail (unidirectional) under the open bridges and kiss for a lucky life. I decided not to over-think the fact that all the boats on the river after the rising of the bridges were large, industrial tankers.

We managed to witness the rising of the next bridge along, from a distance. 

My favourite aspect of the city at night is that all the buildings are beautifully lit from below. We sat right next to the water and the smooth passing of the tankers was incredibly peaceful. Then a drunk man came along and said 'I will [pasu]. Don't run away. Do you understand?', then proceeded to urinate in the river. 'Ohh', we thought, 'You will pisu (piss)'. Then we ran away.

Hermitage and Palace bridge
 As I wanted to take more pictures of the Hermitage at night, we walked around in the drizzle into the square with our cameras.

 It's strange how the Hermitage looks both incredibly beautiful and incredibly spooky at night. In the square, various youths on mopeds raced each other, avoiding the tired-looking horses who slept standing up, waiting for tourists to con.
We also rubbed the feet of the large statues at one of the entrances, for luck, one of many statue-rubbing superstitions in St Petersburg.

It then proceeded to rain A LOT so we abandoned our idea of going to the Church of Spilled Blood and sloshed home. I was especially glad as a friend and I had a meeting at 11am the next day with Nastya, our new boss at the 'Children's Embassy', an extra-curricular English speaking club.

We dragged ourselves out of bed and across town the next day to the British Bakery. It is basically a patisserie with pictures of the Tower of London and English newspaper clippings set into the tables. There is a lot of tea, but it is still served in a glass. I assume this is how French people feel when visiting Maison Paul. We were given all the details about our classes, and I am now teaching two classes (8-10 and 11-13) for four Sundays and possibly working at the 'Detskiy lager' or 'Child camp' in Reading Week. It's less ominous-sounding in Russian.

Saturday evening we went to Baltiyskiy Dom to see The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov. It was a very interesting performance, possibly a new interpretation as Ivan died with a sudden thump on stage and they appeared to have added a new character, Charlotta, whose role was apparently just to be really weird and have a shaggy bowl cut. Our seats were 'behind the armchairs', uncomfortable chairs that I would happily pay more not to sit in next time. However, the acting was wonderful and we understood most of the dialogue, which was a nice surprise.
They also had some models of different upcoming performances. I'm really hoping to see Ward No. 6, above.

With the children and their completed maps last week

On Sunday I took two classes of children. They loved my presentation and the weird things on it, though they were not a fan of Marmite, which I got them to try on its own (revenge for tvorog!). There is an absolute poppet in my first class, who arrived late but exclaimed 'London, I love London! I love Harry Potter! Akh, the Queen!' 

When I showed them the slide about food my family eats and explained that we eat a lot of curry because my grandparents are from India, there was some confusion, even after I explained it slowly in English and finally, in Russian. He held onto my arm and said confusedly in my ear, ' grandparents...are from Russia'.

Nastya told all the children, who we taught last week, before the classes that I didn't understand Russian so they had to speak to me in English. One of the 13 year olds, who has been studying English for six years, replied with a laugh: 'We know'. It was just a coincidence that the good behaviour sticker went to someone else.

Some of my drawings were admired and some were not. For example, 'That doesn't look like a potato!' I tried to explain that potatoes are hard to draw with felt tips at midnight the day before the assignment but children are harsh critics. Nevertheless, this week was really enjoyable and I'm really happy I get to do more teaching. 

I also learnt that the kids all eat strange sandwich combinations for breakfast,  and think that bears are friendly, approachable animals so I'm also learning more about Russia as well as about teaching in a creative, fun way. The best news is that I appoint a 'secretary of the meeting' every lesson so my plan is to leave all the discipline to them. They can let the power go to their heads and I can remain the popular teacher. And if there is a bear attack, I assume the 8 year olds will know what to do.

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