Final Exam That Never Was, and St. Petersburg!

April 6, 2012

So, clearly I’ve had a busy March, since I have not posted in a month. (I only just realized it has been that long when I checked out my last post. Time is positively flying by). March marked the end of the inter-university league for our soccer team – we finished fourth, which is the best MGU has done in 7 years. Last week I finished up two of my classes, with a final exam for social reforms and a final presentation of an anticorruption strategy for Russia. The final exam on social reforms turned out to be… not an exam. We waited in the wrong room for 40 minutes with half the class, then figured out where the other half of the class was, found the correct room and waited to individually go in to the professor. I noticed students were coming out pretty quickly, and I was thinking that three minutes was a pretty short oral exam when my turn came. The professor just asked for my form to receive a grade in the course, signed it, and said to feel free to e-mail him if I ever need help with Russian-related research. So for future reference: a зачёт in Russia is not an actual oral exam – it just means you need to show up to receive your grade.

I finished those two classes just in time for our Middlebury spring break, when I headed off for five sunny days in St. Petersburg. I fell totally in love with the city – not hard after seven months in gray Moscow. Beautiful architecture, smiling and friendly people, and did I mention it was sunny? Moscow has its charms, in the sense that even a crotchety old бабушка has her charms, but St. Petersburg is a whole other story. I am rather relieved, after declaring a Russian major and spending a significant amount of the last three years of my life studying the language and culture, to have found a Russian city I would actually like to live in. St. Petersburg has wonderful art and theatre, just like Moscow, an amazing ballet company, plus a low skyline, wide streets and plenty of open spaces and parks to walk and run in. I was so excited to see a significant number of people out jogging, walking dogs, or pushing strollers in the parks in St. Petersburg. I mean, I’ve seen dogs and children and the occasional British man jogging on the boulevard where I walk, but St. Petersburg just struck me as so much more livable. I guess those are some of the advantages of living in a very intentionally planned city instead of one that has just grown and spread out. Most importantly, St. Petersburg is just a more manageable size – around 4.5 million instead of Moscow’s 11+. Moscow has huge problems has its population swells, because the city just doesn’t have the capacity to handle more car traffic, etc. Moscow’s metro is infinitely superior to St. Petersburg’s, though. Peter the Great wanted St. Petersburg to be a European city, and he certainly succeeded. The city is littered with little cafes with much more affordable coffees and cakes than Moscow, and the styles and fashions of its residents have a more European feel, with definite Scandinavian influences. The fashion reminded me a lot of the Baltic countries we visited in the fall – more sneakers and sporty wear, although there were still plenty of heels and fur. It is a Russian city, after all. People have much more open, relaxed faces, and are incredibly willing to help. My Moscow scowl was out of place – when I had trouble with the metro jeton, the worker told me I had to smile before he would let me through the barrier. These jokes and smiles, or the really helpful woman walking through the turnstile next to me, who turned to help me for about 3 minutes, simply do not happen in Moscow.

Yes, the Winter Palace is positively gorgeous, and St. Petersburg is filled with amazing museums – the Russian Museum, bread museum, Anna Akhmatova and the Silver Age, Dostoevsky apartment museum, Peter and Paul Fortress and Church, Museum of Russian Political History, Smolny Convent and, of course, the Hermitage. Clearly, they were a busy five days. I also followed Raskolnikov’s path through the streets from Crime and Punishment, and we attended a concert of Carmina Burana at the philharmonia. (We expected Mussorgsky, but the ticket site made a mistake, so it was choral music instead.) And with such gorgeous sunny weather, it was so pleasant to just wander around the different parts of the city, next to the still-frozen canals. And the gorgeous weather made for excellent photographs, so here’s a slideshow of some of my favorites!

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So, apologies again for such a long lapse in posts – I won’t wait so long before the next one!

Hillary

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