I had the most incredible week! On Wednesday, I saw the ballet Onegin at the Bolshoi Theater with one of my classmates. I’ve wanted to see this ballet for several years, and it was so worth the wait! The ballerinas were incredibly talented, the set was fantastic, and the costumes were gorgeous. I especially loved the choreography. Onegin is based on Pushkin’s novel-in-verse of the same title. Thus, the choreographer made certain to include nods to Russian culture in the ballet: I recognized several dance moves that we have learned in our Russian dance class!
I also got a fresh new haircut. Getting a haircut is one of my favorite things, so I definitely wanted to have that experience here in Moscow. I found a fantastic barbershop right near the campus of a British international design school. The barbershop was on the second floor of a beautiful old building with exposed brick walls and tall ceilings. It was surrounded by all of these incredible art studios, and had it been earlier in the day, I would have loved to spend hours wandering through and talking with the artists. For those in the DC area, the place reminded me a lot of the Lorton Arts Center and the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.
My stylist was a young Russian lady who was very surprised and excited that I was American! She’d never cut an American’s hair before, so it was really fun talking with her. It was easy for me to communicate and understand her, but just like I do in the U.S., I brought a picture of the haircut I wanted just to be clear. In all, my experience was very similar to getting a haircut in the U.S.
On Friday our group had an excursion to the city of Tula, a suburb about three hours south of Moscow. Tula is known for its gingerbread, beautiful kremlin, and Tolstoy’s estate. It was obviously much smaller than Moscow, and even smaller than Perm, but much larger and more developed than a Russian village.
Each region of Russia has its own special recipe for gingerbread. For example, last year when I was in Perm, I got the chance to take a masterclass in making Permskiy gingerbread. Tula is especially known for its gingerbread, and while we didn’t get to make any ourselves, I definitely enjoyed eating it! Russian gingerbread is much thicker and softer than American gingerbread, and usually filled with jam or condensed milk.
“Kremlin” in general simply refers to a fortress, that was often used as the seat of government because of its defensibility. So, each oblast (region) in Russia has its own kremlin, in addition to the national Kremlin in Moscow where the Russian president works.
Tolstoy’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana, was located outside of the main part of Tula. We took a tour of the estate and even saw Tolstoy’s grave. I loved learning more about Tolstoy as a person. He despised the typical grandiose and luxurious lifestyle of most Muscovite aristocrats and tried to live a more modest life in Tula. As an avid crochet-er myself I really enjoyed seeing the actual blanket Tolstoy used, crocheted for him by one of his family members.
We also took an excursion to the Sergiev Posad monastery, a short hour-long train ride outside of Moscow. I had a harder time understanding the tour – my brain was a bit tired and the crowd was fairly noisy. But, nevertheless, the architecture of the monastery was incredible, and it was a beautiful opportunity to experience a Moscow suburb.
The highlight of my week was watching the launch of Soyuz 59S… from Roscosmos Mission Control in Korolev! The launch carried a Russian cosmonaut, an Italian astronaut, and an American astronaut up for their mission on the International Space Station. Just like launches in the states, the launch controllers displayed live video feeds and animated infographics during the launch. It was much quieter than I expected, though! When I watch a launch with my friends, I’m used to loud cheering and clapping and exclamations. At this launch, it was clear that everyone was excited and eager to see the launch, but people’s reactions were more internalized. Each person there admired the launch in their own way.
The launch was almost like a pilgrimage for me. I have been to mission control once before in high school, nearly seven years ago, for the International Space Olympics. In addition to enthusing over the wonder of human space exploration, the launch was an opportunity for me to reflect and think back on how far I’ve come, and how much I’ve learned over the past years, as an individual, an engineer, and a Russian speaker. As our time in Moscow draws to a close, I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity to keep learning and developing my language skills and cultural aptitude!
Do vstrecha! Until next time!
By: Piper Sigrest
Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program, Moscow, Russia
Term: Summer 2019