Monday, July 20, 2009

And in the End...

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon, since most Russians  doubt that this event took place, I thought today would be a good day to write my final Rocket to Russia.  I’m writing this post from my bed in Beachwood, covered in hummus from my job as a line-cook at the Jerusalem Grill.  It’s weird how not weird it is to be back.  I got home two days before Michael Jackson’s death and, being a life-long MJ fan, it was strangely glorious to be home for his passing.  Instead of mourning alone in Russia, I shared the night with my family, my best friends and a karaoke bar full of the faithful.  The country’s reaction to his death was definitely overkill, like where were all these fans when Michael needed them?  And, as my friend Mike said, if the country had shut down that way when the Patriot Act were passed, we’d be a stronger nation.  But as for me, I won’t stop til I get enough.

Of course, I’ve been reflecting more and more on what I learned in Russia.  There are big things, like Russian generosity (incredible) and gender roles (intense).  But there’s also little things, like I went to the theater last night and didn’t have to buy a playbill.  Wow!  And yet every time I go out, I’m excited, until I remember I can’t buy or drink beer on the street.  Actually, I had been somewhat prepared for that feeling, but I didn’t anticipate it’s pervasiveness.  Most of all, it just feels great to be able to speak without thinking or planning, even when expressing confusion.  In English, I can ask exactly what I need to know.  I’m also a lot funnier in English, so that’s nice.  

But I miss speaking Russian, and I take every opportunity to do so.  The other night I saw an old babushka walking her dog.  I asked it’s name in English, and she answered, “Darya.”  “Dashenka!” I says. “Milaya, krasavitsa” (“Little Darya, darling, beauty).  But the woman didn’t take my bait for conversation.  She just said, “Sank you.”    I have another friend Mike, a Russian one, and when he rolled into town, I went nuts.  I called him my handsome, good smart boy, and he said, “You spent a year in Russia and learned how to talk like a grandmother.”  I guess I’ve always been more of a babushka (“grandmother”) than a dyevushka (“young lady”).  

And yet, I have been influenced by the Russian women’s way, though I didn’t show it there.  As soon as I got home, I bought a bunch of high heels, cut my hair and even did my eyebrows, which I haven’t done since prom.  So maybe I am a bit of a dyevushka.  One thing’s for sure: between rethinking gender differences and living alone, I may not have become an adult, but I’m definitely a woman.  An Amerikanka at that.  I already miss my friends there, most of them beautiful, strong, intelligent young Russian women.  Nadya, Veronika, Aigul, their names are like a cast of Nabokov characters.  Thanks to them, I had a year of good times. 

Now all I have to do is read Russian literature every day, like Jason on his way to becoming a Doctor of Philosophy.  Or go back to Russia next year like Matt.  Oy.  

So, now that the Rocket has successfully returned from orbit, what’s the next mission?  Well, I’d like to go to graduate and/or law school, but that’s all I’ll commit to right now.  It appears I have a year on my hands, or at least a semester, to live a little.  For this summer and eternally, Cleveland is all my heart desires.  But instead of bundling through another winter and working some stupid job here, I am moving to Austin, Texas with Jessie (see posts from April 15 and 22).  I’ll work some stupid job there, and on warm nights go to outdoor concerts with cowboys.  Then I’ll go back to school.  And ya know, I bet there are more interesting, engaging, high-paying jobs in Austin than in Cleveland for two young educated women.  I just remember this camp counselor one summer in Michigan.  She was from Ohio, but had spent a year living in Austin, which she described as a friendly paradise.  Now this girl taught me to play “Dear Prudence” on guitar, gave me her thriftstore1984 and sent me letters for years.  Since then I’ve always had this romantic fascination with the city.  Jessie’s reasons for the move, which she’s been planning all year, are pretty similar to mine.  She’s sick of Boston and New York winters.  And to get there, we will take the most magnificent road trip I could imagine.

There are two downsides to the move, one more serious than the other.  1) At home I don’t pay rent.  But it seems in Austin rent is almost as cheap as in Cleveland, plus most places have pools.  2) Molly Markowitz.  Being away from her this past year was hard to bear, and being with her now is my favorite thing in the world.  This past weekend she slept over for the first time.  Having worked all week, I passed out at 11 watching Willy Wonka.  She watched the whole thing, woke me up when it was over and said “I’m still not tired.”  But I turned off the lights and we cuddled and snoozed away.  Then in the morning, she woke me up on my one day off at 7:50, the exact time I get up for work.  She whispered in her cute voice, “Wake up Abbie.  It’s morning!” which is all I ever wanted to hear.  That, along with her rendition of “Friller Night.”

In the past year, she got a lot bigger, smarter, funnier, all the things that are supposed to happen.  The surprise is that she missed me just as much as I missed her, with the same intensity.  So leaving her again won’t be easy.  She already knows about it, and is upset.  But at the same time, she’s used to me leaving and coming back.  It just kills me, cuz we have so much fun together and I know it means everything to her too.  Of course in Texas I’ll miss my kinfolk terribly.  But like I told my mom, this year, I can come home for Passover.  

So I guess that just about wraps her all up.  I’m putting Rocket to rest, but who knows?  Maybe I’ll write Abbichka: Live from Austin.  Thanks for reading.  Neither fluff nor feather!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Believe I Can Fly

Well my darling Rocketeers, this is the last entry I'll be writing from the Motherland.  Right now, it's 3 a.m.  My taxi comes at 4 to make my 6:30 flight.  Other than that, I should be sleeping, but I haven't actually slept in two days.  It's been a crazy last week, with me trying to squeeze everything possible into my dwindling time and expanding suitcases.

Between all my different groups of friends and acquaintances, I've had a couple going-away parties.  The most memorable was the one that followed my final JCC class last week.  One of my students there is simply wild about her dacha, talks about it all the time.  I asked her to bring me something from her garden, but she misunderstood me, and thought I was asking her to bring me to her garden.  So, after class last Tuesday, she said, "Well, let's go!"  After a whole year of working together, it was great to relax, drink beer and speak Russian with these friendly folks.  Another day, I had an incredible marathon cooking-and-eating party with my local rabbi's wife and family.  Turns out, it's not kosher even to have cats and dogs as pets.  Oy vey!  Sunday night I invited a bunch of friends over for a "Let's clean out Abbie's fridge and closet" party.  I can say it was even more successful than I'd planned, since it became a sleepless sleepover.

In other news, I went to the Ekaterinburg zoo, which wasn't as bad as I expected, but still pretty sad.  The boy and girl animals are separated (are they orthodox?) and pretty much no one in there has enough space.  Except maybe the rodents, one of whom I alone noticed was giving birth.  I also noticed the monkeys were fed yogurt.  Weird!  And it's always funny to see what animals are considered exotic by someone else's standards.  That is to say, in this zoo, attractions include a skunk, a raccoon and squirrels.  But nowhere were there more people crowded around in bewilderment than the tank of axolotls, the very same pink smiling amphibians we used to have as pets.  Finally, elsewhere in the city, I managed to buy all the souvenirs for myself, friends and family that I'd dreamed.  Lemme tell you, Uralski stones are gorgeous, but they're heavy as hell!  

Now, one final story, which I considered not publishing on here, but as a "journalistka," my responsibility is to tell the truth, or my version of it.  So, if you have a weak stomach or are my mother, you might want to stop reading here.

Raise your hand if you're familiar with "rope-jumping."  Basically, it's bunjee-jumping, only without the boing.  You tie a rope securely to some high up structure, attach it to a rock-climbing apparatus that looks like leiderhosen and, well, jump.  I had never heard of it, but Danil, one of my student-come-friends is a seasoned rope-jumper.  Since the beginning of our acquaintance, he's been talking about the most popular place in the city, this great big bridge over the river, for practicing  So today, my very last day in Russia, we decided, in the wise words of Van Halen, "Might as well jump."

Now when I say you jump off a bridge, I'm not talking about a pedestrian bridge.  Rather you have to scale up underneath a highway bridge, already holding on for your dear life just to get to a place where you can stand.  Then, in the middle of the structure, a place not designed for foot traffic, was a group of maybe six young men and women, or better to say boys and girls.  One of them, dressed like a security guard in military fatigues, was the owner of the apparatus, and spent his free time hanging out there, helping anyone who wanted to jump.  Incidentally, this was maybe my first and only experience of someone in Russia offering his services and materials to strangers for free use!  After watching others a few times, they harnessed me up and I climbed over the edge.  After almost chickening out a few times, I jumped!  Actually, it's more of a fall than a jump, and backwards at that.  I guess it looks like suicide, and probably sounded like murder the way I screamed.  Then you just swing back and forth until you pull yourself up (for boys) or get pulled up (for girls).

What a rush!  Afterwards, I was really speechless, only able to say things like "mama dorogaya" ("mother dear").  Having been so close to punking out of the whole thing, I was super-proud of myself.  In fact, my buddy Danil started doing it only because he's so afraid of heights.  I mean really, how many people can say they've rope-jumped off a bridge in Ekaterinburg?  And I bet dollars to donuts I was the first American girl to do it.  After we climbed down from the bridge (which was, in some ways, the scariest part of the excursion), I strutted like I've never strut before.  I felt like strangers could see the adrenaline flying through my veins, or at least could tell that I had some amazing secret.  But now I guess the secret's out.  Sorry Mama Dorogaya!

I started writing this entry in my (former) Ekaterinburg apartment.  Already now I am sitting in the Ekat airport, waiting for my flight

The post above was never "completed," but was printed in full for the reader's understanding of my frazzled mental state.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Greatest Hits of Altai

A couple hours ago, I returned from my extended trip to Altai.  That destination afforded me the opportunity to visit my friends Matt and Jason in their base-cities, Novosibirsk and Tomsk, respectively.  Those visits will warrant their own blog entries, but first things first.  Before we left, another American lost in Russia told Matt that Altai had incredible “energy.”  We made fun of that hippie for hours, but it turned out, she was dead right.

Altai is one of the many autonomous republics that exist within Russia.  Altaians have their own distinct language and culture which is closer to Mongolian than Russian.  In fact, half the Altai mountain range is in Mongolia, and we were closer to there and China than we initially realized.  The lure of Altai for tourists is its pristine nature.  In addition to the mountains, there are beautiful lakes and huge stretches of taiga, a mixed-growth forest.  We planned our trip for this time only because it fit with our teaching and home-going schedules.  Little did we know we would arrive too late for the encephalitis-laden tick season and and too early for

 the tourist season.  So we had the whole of Lake Teletskoye to ourselves, sharing it only with the locals and non-threatening ticks.

Matt, Jason, his girlfriend Rusana and I stayed in a little cottage ca

lled Nastenka named for the owner’s daughter.  The owner, Nina,  and her husband had built a few guest cottages around their own house.  Thus we were surrounded by her prized gardens, and one morning she even put some of us to work there!  We also had use of her kitchen, banya, barbecue pit and outhouse (oh boy).  We spent a lot of time sitting in her gazebo, and she loved how Matt played the banjo.  A note about Nina--we were so lucky to have found her, quite by chance on the internet.  How she managed to get a web-listing I’ll never figure out.  Anyway, because she had no other guests at the time, Nina was more than happy to help us with everything we wanted to do.  She told us the best places to go, took us on a hike up the mountain, even introduced us to a friend of hers who sold fresh milk, sour cream and farmer’s cheese.  The coolest thing was how she walked around in awe of the natural beauty, as if she was seeing it all for the first time.  One curious thing: for some reason, she was absolutely certain we were a group of Germans.  Nothing we said could convince her otherwise.  As Jason pointed out, Nina was very perceptive of most things, like she anticipated our every need and desire, but she’ll forever remember us as that nice company of krauts.

Even cooler than Nina was her dog Misha (alternately Lisha, Pisha and Grisha) who was our self-appointed tour-guide everywhere, every day.  The first time we went for a walk, we tried like the dickens to keep Misha inside the fence, only to have him pop out in front of us a few yards away.  Everywhere we went, Misha was with us, occasionally inviting another dog to join.  He did some amazing tricks, like climbing trees, hopping fences and avoiding being kicked in the head by cows.  Weaving on and off the path, sometimes we thought we lost him, then he would pop out way ahead of us.  The most, or only, heartbreaking moment of the trip was Misha’s face when he realized he couldn’t come with us on a boat ride.  

We spent our days hiking or hanging out by the water.  One day, the rainiest, we took the aforementioned boat ride.  The boat was covered, so it wasn’t miserable, and it was amazing to see just how big Lake Teletskoye is.  I’ve heard this lake described as Baikal’s little brother.  The lake has inspired many legends, of dragons, lost gold and meteorites.  We didn’t see any of that, but it certainly was inspiring.  At night, we usually barbecued, then drank massive amounts of beer in the gazebo until passing out.  

On our last day, we were getting ready to take the first in a series of buses to get to the train station that was four hours away.  But just before boarding, we were offered a cheaper ride with a man going our way.  This type of hitchhiking is totally normal in Russia, and is often a more economical way to travel.  We took the man up on his offer, not knowing he would become one of the most memorable characters of our trip.  Alexander was so full of joy and energy, knew a few words in a bunch of languages and was eager to teach us what he knew about Altai.  On the road, Matt mentioned that we wanted to buy some famous Altai honey.  We passed a house advertising the same for sale, and noticed a little boy jumping up and down on the front porch.  Alexander uttered the endlessly quotable line: "Enough jumping!  Bring honey!"  Later, we stopped at the city Gorno-Altaisk, where Alexander showed us the main square, then brought us into the cafeteria at the central goverment building.  We still had quite a few hours til our train, so he offered to take us to see the Katoon (or, as we called it “Cartoon”) river.  We relaxed by the bank enjoying Matt’s banjo-playing and Alexander’s dancing.  We all agreed that meeting a man as nice and jolly as Alexander pretty much restored our faith in humanity.

Finally, we got to the train station.  When we boarded the train, we found our seats, as most, occupied by soldiers.  It was, literally, a Mongolian cluster-fuck.  Apparently their officer had found their wagon, without checking that the soldiers sit in their specifically assigned seats.  Luckily, since so many passengers had been displaced by the careless soldiers, we weren’t the only ones complaining.  Thanks to Jason’s Russian girlfriend, we got our seats with a minimum of hassle.  We played a few rounds of Durak, which seems to be the only card game played in Russia, before bedtime.  Jason and Rusana claim that there was a military marching band practicing at 3 a.m., but I slept like a drunk baby.

So, now I’m lying in my bed, tanned and spent.  I’ve showered done my grocery shopping and half my laundry and I’m positively exhausted.  It's weird being in Yekaterinburg where the tap water smells after being in Altai where people drink water straight from a pump in the ground.  I have a little over a week left in Russia, and while I lost some precious time in Yoburg, I couldn’t be happier I made this trip.  I recommend visiting Altai to anyone in Russia; I’ve really never seen anything like it.  And here’s the most important part: a place like this can’t possibly remain forever.  Nothing gold can stay, right?  Already, there’s talk of building casinos and turning this gorgeous nature preserve into a sort of Russian Las Vegas.  So get yourself to Altai before that happens.  And if you’re looking for a place to stay, ring up Nina.  She loves hosting friendly Germans.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mystery Train

Well faithful readers, 24-hrs from now I'll be half-way through my 22-hr train ride to Novosibirsk.  There I'll hang out w/fellow Fulbrightnik and OG Matt "Mettik" Nelson.  Thence we go to Altai for approximately one week of good times in the Russian wilderness.  Thoreau-style, I'll be incommunicado for a few days.  But don't worry - you can all look forward to a great post when I get back!

One love.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Artist, (He) Don't Look Back

Last week, my dear friend Lauren ( emailed me that she had met a performance artist, Kimbal Quist Bumstead (  This young man, traveling across Russia and doing art pieces along his way, was headed to Ekat next.  This past

 weekend Ekaterinburg joined many Russian and European cities in celebrating Muse

um Night.  On this day, our local museums were open late and presented all kinds of cool events.  Although I’ve heard in other cities, it went all day and the museums were free, Ekaterinburg gets an A for effort!  So, after some email correspondence, I went to see Kim’s performance at the Museum of Fine Arts.

My experience with performance art is nonexistent, but that night, I became not only a spectator, but an integral participant.  Before he began, Kim, whose curly blond hair makes him easy to identify, asked me how I felt about audience interaction and if I was claustrophobic.  I answered good and no, respectively, but if I were clever I might have asked some questions of my own!  From my seat in the front, I could see Kim’s materials: long rolls of butcher paper, string, masking tape, cardboard, a bottle of vodka and a bunch of plastic shot glasses.  Uh oh!

After being introduced, Kim got to work.  He took me by the hand and led me to a museum bench in the center of the performance space (which was actually just the main gallery of the museum).  We sat down and each had a shot of vodka.  Next he taped my hands together, tied me up and laid me down.  Kinky.  Then he started wrapping me up in the butcher pape

r and taping it together, prompting the little boys around me to argue whether I was a Russian mummy or a birthday present.  Finally, Kim poured another shot of vodka down my gullet and covered my face with a piece of cardboard.  He then pulled a man out of the crowd, gave him some vodka, and made him a standing Russian mummy.  Compared to that schmuck, I, lying down and able to move my head and look around, was lucky.  My feet were tied to his torso, so that when he moved my legs were pulled.  Those same little boys wondered if, when the paper came off, the man and I would have switched places.  Then some spectators (actually my friends who Kim had met before the show) got cardboard taped to the palms of their hands.  They were 

given vodka and small pieces of paper and instructed to draw the wrapped bodies.  In the end, Kim taped their pictures to the string connecting me and the man, and then taped the cardboard-handed spectators to us.  WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?  Kim says this is not the right question.  Better to ask, “How does it make you feel?”

I can say with no exaggeration that this was one of the strangest experiences of my life.  As I told the tv journalist who interviewed me afterwards, it’s hard for me to make sense of the piece, since I didn’t actually see it.  But I did have the feeling of losing my wits (from the vodka) and power (from the tape and paper).  Plus, it was hot as hell in there!  

After the performance, I hung out with Kim and some other cool kids he met here.  He is a “couch-surfer,” part of a community that hosts travelers and in exchange gets free accommodations when traveling.  So since arriving in Ekat that morning, he’d met the curator who helped organize his performance, his couch-host, plus another local girl who was currently hosting two super-cool Dutch couch-surfing artists.  As it turns out, Kim is half-Dutch, so they were all talking in that wacky language!  In fact, the aforementioned standing mummy was one of these two, and he has the coolest name since Kimbal Quist Bumpstead: Marnix.  Perfect name for a cool cat, human or feline.

So in the past few days I’ve hung out a lot with this little group, who’ve become a random but loving family.  Last night we all saw Kim off at the train.  His train-car was full of departing soldiers, and some of them had girlfriends, but only Kim had four girls and one very tall boy chasing running the train and waving handkerchiefs.  I’m so lucky to have met this amazing kids and I know they’ll have plenty of crazy adventures on their travels throughout Russia and the world.  Maybe traveling is itself a kind of performance art.  If so, these kids are stars.

Speaking of traveling, in about a week I’m going to Altai with fellow Fulbrightnik and Europe-companion, Matt (  Altai is a mountainous region, famous for its breathtaking natural beauty.  It’s been Matt’s dream to check it out and if there’s one thing I support, it’s living your dreams.  So in a couple weeks, expect some gorgeous pictures and man-versus-nature stories.  Here’s hoping man wins!

Friday, May 15, 2009

They're Gonna Put Me in the Movies

Today I recorded the English-language voice track for a new movie about nanotechnology.  What the hell is that, you ask?  I didn’t know either until I was asked to participate by a professor/producer at Ural State University.  He and his colleagues made a really cool film about nanoscience for both professionals and laymen - guess which category I fit neatly into.  I tried to churn out the best performance I could, but it was hard to sound excited given that I had no idea what I was talking about.  Anyway, the film will be shown at Russian, French and even American (ie-New York) science film festivals, whatever those are.  So I’m gonna be a star!

In other news, my creative writing class is still going strong.  This week we began our speech-writing unit and I taught Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream.”  The kids really responded to it, how could you not?  They all learned a lot about the civil rights movement and American history in general.  Plus King was just such a talented writer, that speech is moving even out of context.  The hardest thing is knowing when to jump in and explain things, cuz the students are pretty shy when it comes to asking for clarification.  It’s also hard to get them to read it aloud with the proper emotion, since in Russian churches, the priests don’t sermonize.  But a couple kids got it right away, and the rest did with only the minimum of prodding.

Last weekend was a huge holiday here, the 9th of May, Victory (over the Germans in WWII) Day.  This might be a somber memorial, but since it coincides with the beginning of spring, it turns into a huge holiday.  I did everything you’re supposed to do on that day.  I went to the city’s military parade, although that’s sort of redundant since Russia rarely puts on any other kind of parade.  In the afternoon I went with some friends into the forest for a Russian barbecue, which is basically shish-kebob.  The woods were full of people, congratulating each other on the victory.  Then in the evening I went to Ural Technical University for an outdoor concert of a great local, now nationally-famous band, called Chaif.  It was awesome!  I even knew two of the songs, plus they played a Russian-language version of “No Woman, No Cry.”  The crowd was amazing; they knew every word to every song.  It almost felt like being at Blossom.  When it got dark enough, there were two huge fireworks displays.  Everyone was so cheerful (read: drunk), chanting “RO-SSI-YA!” all night.  It was even more fun than New Years, if only because everyone was outdoors.

Then the next night Russia won the national hockey championship, or whatever it’s called.  I didn’t watch the match, but at 3 a.m., I was lying in bed and through my window heard “RO-SSI-YA!  CHEM-PI-YON!” so I figured out that we had won.  People are pretty psyched about this.  Now there’s a big musical event called EuroVision going on.  It’s a competition between singers from all over Europe.  This year it’s being held in Moscow because last year’s winner was Dima Bilan, who is Russia’s....I’m having a hard time coming up with an analogy.  He’s this young pop star who must be really popular, but no one I know likes him.  He’s not as talented as Justin Timberlake, but not as wimpy as John Mayer.  Plus he has such a major mullet that after he won EuroVision last year, the haircut showed up on every boy too young to protest his parents’ wishes.

This weekend there’s a city-wide event called Night of Museums.  Lots of events at all the local museums, should be fun but I’ve heard it’s terribly disorganized (big surprise).  So that’s my so-called life in Ekat.  I have just over a month left and I’m trying to get some more travelling done, just within Russia, before I head home.  See you soon.

Oh yeah, and in case you’re wondering, my metro-falling-horror-story has now become just a funny anecdote.  And the bruise, while still huge, is almost monochromatic.  Hooray!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Baby Take a Bow

So much fun today did I have, but it started somewhat trippingly...

I was asked to be a judge of a local foreign language students’ theater festival.  Of course I was excited for this opportunity!  A little too excited as it turns out.  Rushing to the metro, I fell down the marble stairs.  Ok, that’s not such a big deal.  It’s happened before and may well happen again.  But then, hopping onto the metro, I actually fell in between the car and platform!  My badonk-a-donk saved me from falling all the way to the tracks, but for a moment I was struggling like a person in quicksand.  A strong young man had to pull me out, and then I had to comfort a babushka who practically had a heart attack from watching the incident.  I actually didn’t realize how terrifying it all was until I got over my embarrassment.  To quote Clueless, “Now all night long, I’m gonna be known as the girl who fell on her butt.”  On the plus side, that gap is only a couple inches wide, so at least I’m skinny enough to have faced into this peril.

Anyway, after the most awkward metro ride of my life, I arrived at the Ural Technical University.  This was the first time they’d put on such a festival, and it was a great success.  In the preceding days, there had been performances in German, Spanish, French and Chinese.  Today was English day.  Groups from three local universities (including some of my own students) prepared English-language performances with simultaneous Russian translation.  Get your tissue Mom, “the kids worked really hard on this.”  First two kids did a short William Saroyan piece called “Hello Out There.”  Next, a group from the host university presented an only slightly abridged The Importance of Being Earnest.  Finally, my own pedagogical students presented an original play in which Snow White meets Cinderella.  Fantastic!

My personal attachments aside, Earnest was one of the most incredible productions I’ve ever seen.  Here’s why: these kids had me cracking up with their performances.  Then, the live translation had the Russian audience cracking up with Wilde’s words.  It was really something to experience.  I had only seen this play once, and it was a Cleveland Play House production from which I remember only a feeling of boredom.  But in these hands of these Russian students of a technical university, it really came alive.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that in the past two days, the same kids had given equally moving performances in French and Chinese.  In fact, their production of Yasmina Reza’s Art won them a trip to France.  Way to go kids!

 It was also pretty cool to be part of the jury.  For the first two performances, there was a British man with me.  Unfortunately, he had to leave early, so I had to make the final call myself.  Choosing those other kids over my own students I’m sure will be a huge scandal, but they don’t pay me enough for me to be unfair.  Along with my judging responsibilities, I got a free gross cafeteria dinner and a big bouquet of flowers.  In this country you often see women walking around with such arrangements and I always wondered if they feel as uncomfortable as they look.  Now I know they do.  On the other hand, they’re probably more used to this phenomenon than I am.  They also probably don’t come home and put the flowers in an empty water bottle.

After the performances, I took a long walk with some students who were in the audience.  We had an ice cream and enjoyed the beautiful warm weather.  And when I got back to the metro, I was as careful as if I were carrying a dozen Faberge eggs.