Sunday, March 15, 2009

I owe Russia $1200

With apologies to Bob Hope, I was faced with a similar situation last night when I took Olga, Alexsey, and their friend Anya out to dinner. The bill came to 1839. The bill, of course, was in rubles. Since 100 rubles is about $3.60, the total was closer to $66. This included four entrees, a bottle of red wine from Chile, a salad for me, and a pitcher of “most” which is a drink made from berries. Olga ordered for me and suggested a particular fish dish. Anya was concerned, however, that this dish was too expensive – she said (correctly) that it cost almost $10! I went ahead and ordered it.

This restaurant is Olga’s favorite in Yaroslavl. It is where she and Alexsey decided to get married. It is a Soviet era restaurant where I had also eaten the previous Sunday. It is a mini-museum of Soviet era posters and memorabilia. There were pictures of Lenin, Breshnev, and Kruschev. The waitresses wore “pioneer” uniforms which was the name of the scout-like group that all children belonged to during the era.

Anya is a medical professional in Yaroslavl who also teaches English. She is married to an American, Rob. Rob came over to Russia after a career playing professional hockey in the US and after getting his MBA. He thought there would be good business opportunities here. They met and got married. Unfortunately, Rob came down with MS and returned home (to Wisconsin) for treatment. The American and Russian authorities will not let Rob return to Russia nor let Anya go to the US. The two of them talk frequently and their language of communication is Russian. During their conversation before dinner, Anya handed the phone to me. I started off with “Hello, Robert, this is John from Bethesda, Maryland.” He was quite surprised to hear English, let alone an American voice. I quickly explained why I was in Russia.

Earlier on Sunday, Olga and I traveled to Rostov. Sergei’s friend, Andre, drove us in his Nissan SUV. Andre, apparently, is a prominent Yaroslavl business man who owns two cars. This contrasts to Olga and Alexsey, neither of whom own a car or have a license. Rostov-Veliky is finest sites. It has a large kremlin (stone wall enclosure) and three monasteries. There is a cathedral in the kremlin along with churches and museums. Olga and Alexsey had arranged for me to have an English guide who spoke quickly and authoritatively. Rostov was founded in 862 on Lake Nero which is the largest lake in the region. The people in the town decided in the 19th century to preserve the kremlin and the city is now a major tourist site – although there weren’t many people there on Sunday as it was icy and 14 degrees. My guide showed me the museum devoted to the art of enamel. It is only one of two such museums in the world – the other being in Limoges, France. In this museum, each room represented a century and so I could see the progression in the art over the years. One piece was spectacular. It was about 12 by 18 inches. It consisted of 12 panels – one for each month. Each panel was divided into sugar cube sized parts – one for each day. On each part there was a picture representing the life of the saint whose day it was. The detailed work on this calendar was stunning.

The four of us had lunch in a restaurant in the walls of the kremlin. Olga ordered me a traditional dish served in a container with a lid. It came with a decorated wooden spoon which I used to scoop out the delicious stew. Andre gave me a CD of music made from the bells of Rostov and a DVD of the town.

Andre drove us along the lake to one monastery. There, Olga had to put on a wrap to make it appear that she was wearing a skirt. The cathedral inside the monastery was impressive. I’m becoming more able to distinguish the different parts of a Russian Orthodox church.

Today, Monday, I’m going to Olga’s university and tomorrow morning I must bid farewell to Olga and Alexsey as I take the train to Moscow. They are throwing a party for me tonight at their flat. This certainly has been quite an experience.

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