Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Travel Log, Day Three

Vladimir, Russia 5/18/2016

                Today was our first day volunteering. We went over to a large Vladimir preschool and worked outside for a few hours, the girls re-painting playground equipment and the boys digging holes (I never actually found out the reason?). Before we started, though, we were treated to a performance by one class, a group dance that they were performing for some kind of preschool graduation, I believe. They did a short little dance to some Russian pop music that definitely makes my 'Top 10 Cutest Things I've Ever Seen.' The painting itself was fun stuff, I got to sit and talk with the girls while painting, with the children playing outside and the neighbors nearby all looking amused by our accents. Of course, after an hour and a half I looked up to discover that my legs were absolutely covered in splotches of red, yellow, and blue, despite the fact that I had no recollection of getting paint on me at any point and was only using the red. Classic. Nonetheless, it was gratifying work, the women who helped us didn't speak English but we were told that they were very thankful and that we were welcome back anytime.
The Golden Gates of Vladimir
                   After some delicious 4-cheese Russian pizza, we took a tour of the Golden Gates in the center of town, which were built in the twelfth century and which served as the entrance to the medieval city of Vladimir. They were built to be an impenetrable stronghold and to represent the Golden Gates in Jerusalem, the first of three other Golden Gates important to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. After sketching for a while we took a tour, which, after discussing the architecture of the monument, turned into something of a comprehensive history of Russian warfare through the context of Vladimir. The top of the tower contained a museum with numerous artifacts from the many wars Russia has been involved in, from the Mongol-Tartars through modern times, and throughout I was met with the reality of the incredible hardships the people of Russia have consistently faced throughout history. From the feuding princes, to the Mongols, to Napoleon, to WWII (the Soviet Union had the highest number of military deaths, and almost 200,000,000 deaths total), to the political turmoil of the USSR, the history of Russia seems like conflict after conflict after conflict. Coming from a nation with a relatively short history and one that has seen little violence within its own borders (relative to many others, of course), it is difficult for me to comprehend what having such a war-torn, complicated history is like on a personal level, especially since a more modern Russia has possessed (and continues to possess, as a world leader) the power to bring about significant hardship for other nations, and is hardly an innocent victim on a global scale. The history is complex, but it was certainly a very eye-opening tour, and has helped me to understand the context of this city and this nation today.
The Russian version of Harry Potter
Most important difference: pronounced
'Gary Potter'
                     After stopping at a book store (see picture), we ended the night with a concert of folk music and dance, and it was endlessly entertaining, despite the fact that I understood next to nothing and only had a partial idea of what was going on. I expect it was what watching opera without subtitles is like: there was a lot of acting on the parts of the performers, and many of the songs and dances were stories that I somewhat caught on to, but I didn't actually understand a word. The performance was still wonderful; Russian folk music is unsurprisingly a mix of European ideas and more Eastern sounds, with a very tribal element to it all. There were a lot of pentatonic scales and percussion instruments, and much of it was very fast-paced. The dancing got increasingly more intense as the show went on, and was certainly very gendered: the men often walked with flexed arms and strong movements while the women did a lot of twirling and handkerchief-waving. The singing was fascinating, too; held notes had lots of stylistic turns and embellishments (that occasionally reminded me of Tuvan throat singing, although there were never actually overtones; also this makes sense because of the history of Russian and Mongolian interaction) and there was never any vibrato, which is a strong argument to why modern northeastern European choral music is almost always written to be performed senza vibrato. It was great fun. Scott and Sasha got pulled up onto the stage to dance with them, which was hilarious, and I ended up being escorted home by Maia's babushka. The night ended with a delicious meal of Russian dumplings (my first legit Russian homemade food!) and Poli introducing me to Russian rap.

Funny Moment of the Day: After dinner, while I was doing my homework, my host mom called me in to say hi to her aunt and uncle on Skype from Moscow. The aunt didn't speak English but the uncle certainly did, and he sat me down and told me about how his brother had attended University of Iowa in 1991 until the government switch, at which point he'd had to return for some reason, and how leaders in the communist party had traveled to Iowa in the 50's to see our farms and ended up bringing lots of popcorn back. At the end of the conversation, much to my host mom's chagrin, he toasted my trip and good weather with a double shot of vodka from the handle he'd been drinking from throughout the call, which has got to be the most Russian thing I've seen yet.
Speaking of communists, here's a windy selfie with a statue of Lenin

1 comment:

  1. Again, an awesome blog post! I'm glad I'm learning about Russia right along with you! I like the part about communist leaders visiting Iowa to visit farms! Yay Iowa!!! ;-)