On the 10th of July I graduated! We had two classes, and afterwards we had a little ceremony/celebration with our teachers. The only one who couldn't make it was Mikhail, which was definitely disappointing - he was absolutely awesome. His newspaper class was definitely one of my favorites, he kept us entertained and involved. Marina gave a little speech about how wonderful we all are and how we give Kansas a great reputation. (Good, because I don't think Kansas even HAS a reputation in Russia).
After the ceremony I didn't really know what to do with myself after class for the last time. I was totally burnt out on museums, and I just had a few left on my list that I wanted to check out - but I never did, because I just had no desire after seeing soo many. I needed to take a lot more photos with my film camera, so I headed to the Souvenir Fair where I'd been once before. It wasn't a place that I particularly enjoyed - it was full of old tourists who didn't know Russian trying to give the sellers US dollars or Swedish kroner. Luckily for them, all of the sellers spoke English and a few other languages, and would gladly accept foreign currency. I couldn't stop to look at one thing without someone coming up to me and trying to start a conversation in English. "This is definitely not Russia," I thought as I walked through the stalls. "This is a separate little non-country in the middle of St. Petersburg, pretending to be full of Russian culture." I was not pleased. But I thought it might be a great place for interesting photos - markets always are. And amazing things happened.
Looking through the thousands upon thousands of options, a lady approached me and started telling me something in Russian, and immediately realized I wasn't a native speaker. She asked if I was a foreigner, and I told her, "Yes, but I speak both English AND Russian." - sticking up for my lacking, but still existent, language skills. We went on to have a conversation about where I was from, why I was here, what she enjoyed about studying abroad, etc... it was by far my longest and most in-depth Russian conversation I'd had with a native since arriving six weeks ago, and I felt like a total champ.
I wandered further along and ended up stumbling upon a huge corner stall in the back, bursting to the seams with piles of original B&W photography, all by one young artist. He spoke flawless English, which I was thankful for, because as much as I wanted to discuss his photos in Russian, it would have been impossible without all the vocab. Most of his photos were mounted on random book covers and cardboard, some of the borders covered with newspaper or written on along the edges with quotes and thoughts. He literally had thousands stacked, boxed, hung up, under tables, etc. He used a lot of the same images in really different ways, and successfully experimented with double exposure. You could tell he could make a hundred in a day, because some were carelessly put together and there were just SO many, it was ridiculous. Everyone wants a piece of cheap original art (aside from the cliche landscape)- he must make a lot of business at that Souvenir Fair. But the way he did it worked. I knew they were just crappy pieces for tourists, but I sort of loved that about them. I bought two, one which was mounted on a page out of a Russian book 'for good studying', and another which was an unmounted 8x10 print of the Church on the Spilled Blood double-exposed with a telephone wire and LOTS of birds. Sounds cliche, but it's beautiful.
There were two other girls my age looking around at the same time, and they were definitely from Britain. They were just as interested in the photos as I was, and they seemed pretty cool. They were wondering to each other about the post office - I could tell they hadn't been in Russia long. I spoke up and told them there were post offices EVERYwhere, and helped them out with what the sign looked like, etc. We got to talking, and we really meshed - they were traveling to every corner of Europe this summer: Finland, Russia, Estonia, Czech Republic, etc...I couldn't remember the whole list they rattled off. They asked if I wanted to be a part of their project - and they explained that they're creating this "Book of Strangers" filled with interesting people they meet along their way. Of course I wanted to be included! I also took a photo of them, and we exchanged emails. They were full of curiosity, excitement, motivation, and style - they gave me so much inspiration for my future travels, and completely made my day.
My previous post may have come off with a bit of bitterness, homesickness, and/or resentment. Let me be honest, and tell you that in the last week and a half or two, I was feeling just a little bit of animosity toward the culture. I was lonely. My to-do and to-see lists weren't filled with excitement anymore, but obligation. I had no one to make comments to in art galleries. I couldn't point out beautiful windows, or share the way the light made great shadows in the alleys. Exploring cities on your own can be full of excitement and pleasure - and it was for me, for a good while. But someone to share it with is crucial. I tried to let this blog be a good outlet for my thoughts and observations, which satisfied for a bit. Due to limited internet time, however, it couldn't be all I wanted it to be.
All in all, I survived, and am bettered. I've lived within a culture I've been learning about and studying for two years. It's an experience that has changed some ways I think, and has expanded my knowledge of the world. My itching curiosity to see the rest of it has only been agitated more.
Now to restore the dignity of Russia's culture from my previous post, here are a few redeeming qualities:
FLOWERS: цветы are a huge tradition in Russian culture. You can find a flower stand on every corner on your walk home, and at least three outside every metro station. This is one of my favorite traditions - the most expected gift for any holiday, for male or female, is flowers. A bit more for females, but boys like them too :) Americans have such a muted appreciation for flowers. I think I've only gotten a few bouquets in my entire life - all from my parents, for birthdays, dance recitals, and the like. Russian boys take a single flower to a girl on their first date. If an American boy tried that gesture, in most cases the girl might be a little freaked. I wish flowers were more commonplace here, because on a long metro ride home after a tiring day, it was wonderful to see old women, fathers, boyfriends, girls carrying bouquets home to their loved ones.
MULLETS: Oh wow. They are so popular and so everywhere, I found myself seeing them as attractive... stop me now. On many occasions, even women could pull them off and look chic. The football (soccer) mullet, the Euro mullet, the Dima Bilan mullet, the loooong mullet...men just won't give them up.
CHEAP NECESSITIES: If you want to live a simple, no-frills life, Russia would be the place to do it. All necessities for basic living are incredibly cheap - food, most of the time. Internet connection. Housewares. You'd only get into financial trouble if you want to go shopping for clothes or spend more than one night a week at a restaurant. Better skip the drinks at the bars as well. But to live simply, it's incredibly easy. Props for that.