matryoskha dolls and more

I was supposed to have a bit of a sleep-in day today before going on a Semester at Sea trip… but that didn’t quite work out. I was awoken initially at maybe 9:00 when there was an announcement that the crew would be doing drills all morning. So for every half hour after that, there would be another announcement (pertaining only to the crew) that woke me up all over again! A little bit of a disappointment, but then again I got a kick out of watching the crew shuffle around on the ship and port – it was pretty cool to watch.

In the afternoon I went on a trip to learn about Russian arts schools and such. There was a major mixup about my trip ticket because they had issued me a ticket for an earlier trip to the same place (not my fault, their error) and the field program woman was pretty much the most unhelpful thing ever. She made the situation really complicated, but another girl just nudged me on the bus with everyone else and it worked out fine. In fact, the trip was really incredible!

First we went to a small museum of art that is also an art academy – so students can go wander the museum to study its pieces and learn about their techniques on an ongoing basis. Every room was done in a different cultural motif, adding a lot of culturally artistic variety to the museum experience. The coolest thing about this place, however, was that when we walked into the main gallery, there were students everywhere painting on canvases. Apparently they were all there because it was their entrance exam for the art academy. They were all painting the same few objects, yet their styles were all very personalized and unique (and amazingly skilled!) The “museum shop” there (if you could call it that) was also very unique because it was mostly student works and canvases stacked everywhere for purchase.

After that, we went to visit a small school of applied arts that was further out of the city. We were greeted by a group of students (of all ages) who were dressed very traditionally and singing to us in Russian, it was really nice! Everyone was so welcoming and motioning for us to come inside and join them. We first spent time following our guide through the small museum shop where she explained a lot of the traditional forms of art – and again, everything for sale was work done by the students. After that, we went into a big room with tables and blank matryoskha dolls (nesting dolls) where we were to paint our own dolls… we were all absolutely clueless as to where to start. Lucky for us, many high school/university-aged girls, along with some older women, came around to our tables and helped us draw our doll’s faces in pencil and then begin painting. Wow, it is so hard! It was incredible to see how these experienced women could just pick up one of our dolls and straight away paint a beautifully precise face onto it. I won’t say mine is by any means a masterpiece, but I didn’t make quite as much of a mess of it as I had anticipated.

Going on the trip was also good because I met another girl from the ship, Nealey, who shares similar sentiment about the student body (and how disappointing most of it is). She and I went out later on in the evening because she hadn’t been downtown yet, and I needed to buy a headscarf for a trip to a synagogue. I had no idea what an adventure going downtown would be, since when I went before it was pretty straightforward (though I was only in an internet café, go figure). We went to this really interesting building that we eventually determined to be a mall, but instead of walking into stores from an inner court, all of the stores just connected to one another in a giant loop. It seemed really efficient, but it was disorienting to be in the middle of a toothpaste aisle and then five steps later be surrounded by plants in a gardening store. I finally found a headscarf which was good, though the transaction was a little rough because the girl kept taking the scarf from me when I was trying to buy it and putting it back on the rack instead of selling it to me! Eventually that was sorted out…

After we made it out of the gargantuan mall-type-place, we headed across Nevsky prospect (the main street) to go to a supermarket which was a whole other adventure. Everything was fine until we were checking out and when Nealey was paying, she got confused so I helped her out and then when she was gone she elbowed me and asked me to thank the cashier in Russian, which I did (thank you Igor and Andrea for the few Russian words I know, they are being put to very good use!) So then when I was being rung up, Nealey was putting my groceries in my bag for me, being polite, when the cashier tore the bag out of her hand and put it back on top of my things – she thought Nealey was trying to steal my groceries! When that happened, I waited to put my stuff in my bag until after I paid, because I was confused as to what was going on, and then the woman picks up the bag, opens it, and looks at me like I am crazy stupid for not bagging my groceries while she is getting my change. It was pretty funny at the time, especially because we determined that the cashier mistook me for being Russian, since I was helping my friend, and so she kept talking to me in a very fast and animated fashion which of course I couldn’t understand a word of.

Dinner on the ship tonight was pretty bad, so we had dinner at Sbarro (like in the United States!) It was funny because the sign of course was in Cyrillic but we recognized it regardless. We saw one of the captains from the ship there by himself and invited him to eat with us, but they can’t fraternize with the students so he had to sit a few tables away, by himself… kindof sad. There was also a bit of a mishap in Sbarro when I was trying to find the bathroom and accidentally opened the door to the kitchen instead, but I err.. won’t go into that.

On the walk back to the ship, I got to witness the funny mass of boys gathered by the Hermitage to race their motorbikes which was kindof amusing – looks like something that would happen in California. When we walked past, this boy asked us if he could borrow a pen so, of course, I gave him a pen to use real quick. We stood there waiting for several minutes while he sat in his car (pretty beat up) with two other guys while they conferred over something and scribbled some info down on paper with the pen. He very politely returned it to us and as they were walking away we realized they were definitely on a drug run, a rather amusing realization. When this occurred to us, we looked back and as they were walking away they had stopped and saw us turn back… and were motioning for us to follow them! Nealey, thinking it would be polite, started waving (in the “goodbye” way) to them, which I think confused them… and then we just kindof took off walking before that went anywhere, oy.

On the way back to the ship we ran into a couple of groups of people that Nealey knew which was cool because I got to meet more people with similar interests, which has been really tough to do so far. Phew. Wasn’t technically that long of a day but it definitely feels like one… so much schoolwork I need to be working on, but right now I just have got to pass out and rest!

our welcome at the art school

painting our dolls!


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