Numbers, Poetry, Hurling, Ice-Hockey and Rain (and Cucumbers)

(Wednesday 5th October 2011, written and posted same day)
I took a different route to work this morning. On the way I passed the “Academy of Water Transport”, which is an impressive building and I assume has something to do with moving people and stuff around the inland waterways (after all, you can’t get much further from the sea than Novosibirsk) and the offices of “Sibir Telecom” which have this interesting sculpture at the front. Notice the blue “phone box”. It isn’t a GPO original, but it is a close copy. Isn’t it strange, how that design has acquired “icon” status.
A substantial bit of yesterdays homework was sorting “things” into groups and then writing the sentence “I have many …things…” for each of the “Things”. The sorting was fine, but the sentences are harder than you might think, because for technical reasons the form of the word “things” (which is in the “genitive case”) changes. I did alright, but believe me, it isn’t easy.
Another part of the homework from yesterday was to write a “Recipe for happyness”. For a while this had me stumped, and then I decided that I know a “Recipe for Paradise”, which for technical reasons fitted the bill. This “recipe” is a poem by someone called Omar Khayam (translated from Persian by Edward Fitzgerald in the 19th Century). Here’s the poem:
A loaf of bread, a flask of wine,
A book of verse, and thou,
Beside me singing in the wilderness,
And wilderness is paradise (e)now.
To my amazement, I almost got away with it. “Beside me” got a bit mangled and “Wilderness is Paradise” needed adjusting, but I did pretty well (in the English, Fitzgerald tacks an extra “e”, in front of “now”, to adjust the rhythmn). And that led us on to a question and answer about poetry.
Another part of the lesson today was conversation. Diana (my teacher) asked me about what sports I was interested in. I said that I wasn’t a “Sportsman” but that I watched some sport. I explained that Ireland has some special sports which are restricted to Ireland. Specifically “Hurling” and “Gaelic Football”. For anyone who doesn’t know, Hurling as a very fast field game played with sticks and a hard leather ball. To someone who doesn’t know it (like me), it is a little like hockey, but only a very little! Then I have to explain to Diana what Hurling is like. I don’t really understand Hurling, but we finish up with a Scotsman, explaining an Irish game, to a Russian, in Russian in Siberia! There was lots of arm-waving and a few diagrams (for the goal posts). I don’t know if Diana is any the wiser.
After lunch, I set out on a expedition. I have been commissioned to buy a “Novosibirsk” Ice-Hockey jersey. Up until today, I had no luck but I finally succeeded. The expedition was to a part of town which I hadn’t visited before. It took me a one trolley-bus ride and a bus ride to get there. The stadium was a little non-descript, but it is an indoor sport. There was a banner advertising “wrestling”, but I’m not sure what sort of wrestling. It took me a little while to find the merchandise shop. It wasn’t marked at all well. And then the negotiations started. There were two men in the shop. Both were helpful, but neither spoke any English. My Russian has improved, but this was entirely new territory, and I don’t even know anything about ice-hockey (By the way, if a Russian refers to “Hockey”, they mean Ice-Hockey). They didn’t accept plastic, but they did direct me to a cash-machine. I wasn’t that hopeful, because I haven’t had very good luck with cash-machines, but I went and tried. We were in luck! I short while later, I left. Now the proud owner of a rather attractive Hockey Jersey (Front and Back). The journey home was a little bit of an adventure. I spotted a trolley-bus which said it was going to a suitable place. Then it took a turning I didn’t expect! After frantic map-reading, I decided I was going in the right direction. A little later, the bus turned onto a road that I knew and eventually I got off very close to the school. I actually had an easier journey coming home, than I did on the way out.
Once I was back at the school, I got stuck into the homework. I hope I’ve understood it properly, and if I have, then I’ve done all I needed to.
At 5:30 today we had a presentation on the work of a film-maker called Alexander Petrov. He’s an animator, and I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of him before, even though he has won an Oscar. I don’t even understand how he does what he does. The pictures are drawn somehow, but have a distinctive “grainy” appearance, like chalk, charcoal or pastels on a rough surface. We were told that it takes Petrova 2 years to make 20 minutes of film, so it’s in the same area as “Wallace and Gromit”. I will find out more about his work. The films we saw were:
  • “The Cow”
  • “Rusalka” (which doesn’t translate, but I think is a bit like an mermaid in a river)
  • “The Old Man and the Sea” (based on Ernest Hemmingway’s story)
  • “First Love”
I think the weather has finally turned. On the way home, it started to rain. It was only a few spots to begin with but then it started to rain pretty hard. A proper “April shower”, except it is October. Even though it was raining a bit, I popped into a local shop to buy a bottle of beer. One has to have priorities. By the time I got out of the shop, it was raining a lot harder (by the way, the Russians use “verbs of motion” to describe weather). When I got to the courtyard of the group of blocks where I live, I was greeted by loads of red and white plastic tape. I hope it is there because someone is planning to re-tarmac the car-parking and access road, because if not, I’ve just crossed a crime-scene!
supper this evening was pork cutlet (minced, battered and fried), fried potatoes, and a fried egg, accompanied by cucumber. I wish you could experience how good the cucumbers and tomatoes are here. The cucumbers are short, 3 to 4 inches long. The kind that you might see as pickled gherkins in a chip shop. Only these are fresh. I can’t get over how good they taste. My Landlady served them sliced thinly, lengthways. They’re almost sweet, like melon! Either on their own, or with just a little salt, they are delicious.
The internet has stopped working (again), so I don’t know when this will reach the internet. I have an exam on Friday (you didn’t think I got off scot-free, did you?) and then I fly out of Novosibirsk a little after 07:00 local time on Saturday. That means there will be a taxi for me at 5:00 and I’m getting up at 04:00. Nice! Even if this gets posted, you may not hear too much more from me this trip.
Addendum 1: Try eating blini (pancakes) with melted butter. Zap the butter in the microwave.
Addendum 2: Just been taken on a trip to the shops at 22:45. It was a place called “Lenta”. It’s enormous – 35 checkout lanes, and open 24 hours. The stock is stored on racking above the shelves. Aldi/Lidl meets Wickes. Sells everything from car tyres to groceries.
Addendum 3: And a tour of Novosibirsk by night. This really is a 24 hour city, and not just for the clubbers.

Numbers, Art, Spoons and Trams

(Tuesday 4th October 2011 written and posted 5th October)
The lesson today was about numbers. Numbers of “things” in Russian present special problems for a foreigner. The form of the word “thing” depends on the details of the “thing” (masculine, feminine, neuter, animate, inanimate) and the number:
  • One thing is “nominative”
  • 2, 3 and 4 things are “genitive singular” (yes, I know that 2, 3 and 4 are plural), and
  • 5 and more things are “genitive plural”
  • And the game starts again at 21, 22-23-24, 25+, 31, etc!
If someone really understands it, contact me off-line, you may be able to earn yourself a drink!
Another exercise was a lady telling me her recipe for happiness: “A dollup of this, 5 tonnes of that, a smidgin of something else”. You can probably see how it relates to the earlier stuff about plurals. Part of the homework is to produce my own recipe.
After lunch I went on a trip round the a Novosibirsk art gallery with a lady called Nastia. The association of the name in English is completely wrong. She’s a 21 year old Literature student, who speaks better English than my Russian, but won’t while she’s with me! We went round the gallery, and I learned about her taste in art (she likes paintings of the sea, and so do I) and she learned that I used to work in a steelworks (because there were Soviet era engravings of coke-ovens and a blast furnace). I enjoyed the trip and I hope she did too. We spent over an hour and a half in the gallery and I haven’t concentrated so hard for a long time.
Then it was back to school to do some of the homework. I did formal “numbers of this and that” exerises I had to do, but just couldn’t get to grips with the “recipe for happines”.
Fed up with the Recipe for happiness (which was making me unhappy), and armed with a flyer I found at the school, I set off to find a souvenir shop. A bus ride and a short walk later, I bought some carved wooden spoons with painted decoration. I think they are very pretty.
On the way home, I decided to go by a different route and take a trip on a tram. The trams in Novosibirsk are pretty old. You have to climb a long way up to get into them. This one took me pretty much the whole way home. I could get it (the other way round) to the school, but I think that would be a waste of effort. (Minibuses cost 35 r, Metro 15 r, buses and trolley-buses 14 r, and trams 13 roubles). If you want the real, post-soviet experience, travel by tram.
Dinner was pork cutlet, mashed potato, tomato and cucumber.
Boosa is 12. She’s getting pretty old. I hope the “accident” was an isolated incident, otherwise her days are probably numbered.
I still couldn’t think of a suitable “recipe, so I “played hookey”, and watched “Pirates of the Carribean” (in Russian), and had a bottle of strong beer (that’s what is says on the label, and it is 7%).

Not Teachers’ Day

(Monday 3rd October 2011, written and posted 5th October)
It’s amazing how quickly the memory fades. There is only one thing sticks in my mind. Maybe I will remember more and add more detail later.
I took my “Teachers’ Day” card to school and was told that I was a little early, because some days are marked according to the old Julian calendar, rather than the modern Gregorian one! That’s one more thing down to experience.

“Sarf of the River” and (Both) “End(s) of the Line”

(Sunday 2nd October 2011 written same day)
It turns out I slept through supper last night! Still, the rest must have done me good. Breakfast this morning was good. For “Porridge” substitute “Rice Pudding”. It’s still nourishing!
My landlady tells me that the weather we we’re experiencing is unusual. She says I have been very lucky. She also assures me that the first snow will come before the end of October. With that warning ringing in my ears, once I’d done the homework, I decided to explore some new bits of the city.
First stop was supposed to be another look at the “Birch Bark Museum”. Unfortunately it is closed on Sundays, so I’ll try to fit that in another afternoon. I paused to take a picture of a building I found interesting. Then I walked to “Oktoberskya Metro Station”. On the way I crossed a large arterial road. Metro stations are pretty well signposted with a large red “M”, like the ones in Paris.

Catching the train was no problem. A metro ride costs 15 roubles (0.38 Euro) any distance. I had a couple of minutes problem with the ticket machine, but soon worked it out. The metro stations here aren’t palatial like the ones in Moscow, but they are clean. If London Underground decoration favours glazed ceramic tiles, then Novosibirsk Metro decoration seems to favour marble and terrazzo.
I went to the southern end of the Lenin Line, which ends at Karl Marx square. The area south (east) of the River Ob is more industrial and considered a little rougher. Karl Marx Square looked OK to me, but I didn’t venture into the industrial areas. The square itself has formal gardens

and an imposing statue of:

“Александр Иванович Покрышкин
Alexander Ivanovich Pokryshkin
Hero of the Soviet Union
Marshal Of the Airforce”

He’s worth reading about.

From Karl Marx Square I took the Metro to the North end of the line at “Zaeltsovskaya”.

Wandered home, buying some provisions (like beer!) along the way.
(Blog Post updated to include pictures directly, rather than as links. 17th November 2015)

Hanging around (cue “The Stranglers”)

(Saturday 1st October 2011, written same day)
It has been a funny day so far. It’s Saturday, so my landlady got up late. (Good for her). I’d already helped myself to watermelon and tea, but she asked me if I wanted breakfast. I said yes. Breakfast became:
  • Watermelon and black tea
  • Porridge,
  • Smoked eels,
  • Spaghetti bolognese (yes, you have just read that!) and
  • Chocolate cake.
My landlady and her boyfriend invited me on trip to “The Forest” this afternoon/evening. Naturally, I said yes. I hope I understood correctly. I’m waiting for the trip to start now (17:30). I had planned to go on a walking tour of “Historic Novosibirsk” in the afternoon, but after a text from me, and a phonecall from the landlady, I hope that has been cancelled successfully.
After breakfast, I went into the city. I had a number of objectives and met with mixed success:
  • Trip to the cash machine – Successful
  • Trip to a sports shop. I want to buy someone a “Novosibirsk (ice) hockey jersey”. – Unsuccessful. Conversation went ok (broken Russian meets broken English), but this particular shop only sells Nike gear. They understood what I wanted, but didn’t know where I could buy one.
  • Trip to shop to buy “Teachers’ Day” cards – Success. They understood what I wanted, and pointed me to the display.
  • Trip to another shop (more of a stall) to buy fridge magnets as presents – Success. How do you translate “Fridge Magnet”? I used Russian for “Fridge” plus the English “Magnet”, plus some pointing. It worked anyway.
Pretty good score.
Regarding “Teachers’ Day”: The first Sunday in October (today) is “Teachers’ Day” in Russia. This is a carry-over from the Soviet Union. Tomorrow the kids bring their teachers (the ones they like, anyway) cards and flowers. I’ve bought one of the cards. With a little help from Google I translated the verse. It could be described as “Gushing and syrupy”. Typical greetings card!

While in the centre of the City, it was a little quieter than it is during the week, so I took some pictures:
  • North up Krasny Prospect
  • North-West along Station Highway (you can see “Novosibirsk Main” station, on the Trans-Siberian at the end)
  • Here’s a plaque commemorating the original tram-line in what is now Lenin Square.
I wandered home and settled down to the homework. This is a grammar test. I’ve struggled through a little over half of it. I’ve been using the books I have, and my notes and I still find it quite hard. It’s all part of the learning experience.
At various times, the Landlady and her boyfriend, and her son have been in and out of the flat. It feels like something is going to happen, but nothing has actually happened yet.
Beautiful early evening here. I’m waiting for something to happen. I was offered a bowl of small, sweet, black, seedless grapes. I’ve eaten them, very nice. Meanwhile, a little later, I was eating a pear and the Alsation started looking at me and drooling. Hoping it was the pear she wanted, I gave her the core. Gone! Just like that. An Alsation that likes pear cores (and apples, come to think of it). Well I never!
Something happened about the trip. I guess plans change. I got on with my homework, which I found quite hard, and I’ve got most of it done.
Early to bed.

(Blog Post updated to include pictures directly, rather than as links. 17th November 2015)