Such a fun day today! One of the students in my upper-intermediate adults class, Tatiana (the one who got me a health certificate and with whom I've gone swimming a few times), invited me to go to a photography exhibit with her and her friends. She and her boyfriend picked me up at 12, then we picked up Katya, another student from my class, and the four of us headed into Moscow. We met up with three of their other friends at a former chocolate factory, which is where the photo exhibit was being held. Now the warehouse has been transformed into a trendy gallery/studio, with bare white walls, exposed ceilings, and bright lighting. Clubby music was playing (made sense, as we were definitely in the "hip" part of Moscow, and some of the most famous nightclubs were just around the corner) and there was a buzz of excitement in the air. We paid 250 roubles, then made our way into the exhibit. It was titled "Surf, Skate, Snow" (in English) and was sponsored by a bunch of snowboarding/surfing/skateboarding companies - Quiksilver, Roxy, Burton, and Etnies. The photos were taken by a variety of photographers and included snowboarding/surfing/skateboarding scenes from all over the world: Canada, Austria, Switzerland, the USA, Dubai, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, Jordan, Greenland, Norway, etc.
I've never done any of these three extreme sports; truthfully, me and "extreme sports" don't really go together at all. I would LOVE to try surfing (a residual wish left over from when I was fifteen and watched Blue Crush for the first time), but I know that my inherent lack of grace would only end with me faceplanting in the water, the powder, or, worse, the concrete. However, this exhibit was absolutely amazing!!! The photos were incredible, managing to capture Mother Nature at her finest and the urban jungle at its grittiest. Some of the things these athletes can do are unbelievable, and just about every photo was gasp-inducing. Tatiana's going to Bali soon for winter holidays and is planning to try surfing while she's there. We found this one photo of an ENORMOUS wave - nay, a tsunami - with this one lone surfer just lost in the middle of it, and it had been taken in Bali. "That's going to be you!" we teased her. Tatiana is so petite, tiny and blonde that the thought of her tackling such a behemoth is hilarious!
Ladna (Russian for "anyways", one of my new words of the week I've learned!), the exhibit was really cool and I'm so glad I went. I wish I could take pictures like that! The ones where all you saw was one snowboarder making their way down the mountain were my favourites, I think. Perfect, untouched snow in the front, with just a single track trailing behind the snowboarder...and this huge, vast mountain...this is definitely a case where a picture would be worth a thousand words, because my words are not doing any justice! As we were leaving, there was a massive queue outside waiting to get in, and the gallery itself was packed with people. The exhibit was just on this weekend, and it must have been really popular.
We decided to go for food at a restaurant close by, which was literally only steps from the Pushkin Gallery. I'm starting to know my way around Moscow (at least the centre of Moscow) and it's a comforting feeling. The restaurant we went to was called Pelmeni, and is famous for its namesake - pelmeni are dumplings, kind of like the Polish pierogi (only with thinner dough and more stuffing than the pierogi), and are considered part of Russia's national cuisine. Have I mentioned they are also DELICIOUS!?! Seriously, I've already decided that if my parents come to visit me in May, I am taking them back to this resturant for pelmeni. The fact that its so close to a bunch of galleries, the famous Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Red Square, the Moskva River, and the Kremlin is just a bonus!
We all ordered pelmeni and tea and then the six Russians proceeded to interrogate me with questions about myself. This was kind of uncomfortable for me, as they were all hanging onto my every word and staring at me like I was a celebrity. Then it hit me - all my life, I've been complaining about being a boring Canadian and wanting to be "exotic," and now I finally am!! I should be living it up! :) But I just want to learn more about them, and to practice my Russian so I can sound more like a native and blend in here! It's pretty ironic. "Keh-TEE, what is your favourite music?" "Keh-TEE, what is your favourite movie?" "Keh-TEE, what is Canada's national dish?" (I had no answer to this one, except the weak fall-back to a stereotype - maple syrup - can any Canucks out there help me with this one? What IS our national dish?) "Keh-TEE, why is it you love Russia?" "Keh-TEE, what are the professions of your parents?" "Keh-TEE, is it true that Canada has the most beautiful air in the world?" And then..."Keh-TEE, who is more handsome, Russian men or Canadian men?"
Gulp. Playing the diplomatic card, I answered "Russian men, konechna - certainly." To which they all clapped and grinned and cheered. But honestly, I'm going to have to go with a strong affirmative CANADIAN MEN on this one!! Canadian men tend NOT to have mullets and rat tails, and their clothing choices are usually a little more encompassing than the ubiquitous Adidas tracksuit. I'm not saying ALL Russian men look like this, so if you're reading this and you're a Russian guy with a nice short hair cut and you're wearing a suit, please don't be offended. I'm just going on the majority of the guys I see around here!
After we finished eating, we walked around the centre for a bit, as it was a balmy -11 degrees, took some pictures, then went into the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (the same huge, beautiful church I've blogged about before!). It's the biggest Orthodox church in the world. We had to cover our hair before we went in, so I was glad I had brought a scarf. The cathedral is stunning on the outside, but man, the inside was just...again, no words can describe the absolute beauty. I have to fall back to the quote I used in describing the church at Alexandrov, the quote from the Russian delegates back in the 10th century - "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth." Russian icons and paintings of Jesus, Mary, and the saints are otherworldly in their unique blending of simplicity and depth. The incense and singing adds to the senses that are being engaged. It was quite busy inside, with a Mass (are Orthodox services called Masses, or is that just a Catholic thing? I don't know :S) going on and many people just there to pray on their own or light candles for loved ones. We went down to the basement where there is supposedly a statue that at one point wept real tears, but that part was closed off for some reason. I picked up a paper with a prayer written on it in Russian, and Katya translated it for me. It was very beautiful and sounded just like something that would be at my church back home, the kind of daily prayer that asks God for guidance, for strength to get through the day's challenges, and for help in doing His will. It was a very solemn and beautiful ending to the night. As the seven of us left the cathedral, Tatiana brought some levity to our sombre mood by pointing out, "Today we can say was like the movie Eat, Pray, Love. We did some eating, we did some praying..."
Tatiana's boyfriend suggested some more sightseeing, but by this point we were all pretty tired so we headed back to Mytishi. On the way they all pointed out different things for me to look at, and I got more of a chance to speak Russian rather than English. Oh, we also got pulled over by a cop! I'm not sure why, exactly, but the cop tried to get Tatiana to give him a 500 rouble bribe. She told him all she had was 100 roubles, so he clearly decided it wasn't worth it and let us go. It was my first experience with the legendary corruption of the Russian police.
Everyone was so, so friendly and nice and just genuinely amazing today...I'm so lucky to have met such incredible, kind, and warm people in the three months I've been here. I know I've said it before but I'll keep saying it!!
P.S. Almost forgot to mention! We went into a fancy chocolate shop just for fun at one point today and they had this giant chocolate bust of Pushkin that was selling for $400 US!!