Friday, March 2, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Vytegra

After my first post I am still feeling great, perhaps even better, to be in Russia with a fantastic group of Russianists!  Since my first post, we have been to the Alexander Svirsky Monastery, we have worked in the museum, gone to the schools, conducted interviews, had dance offs with the Vytegor youth, slid down ice hills, went on a one horse open sleigh, and, without a doubt, had way to much delicious Russian food and tea (but I am not really complaining). 
Our trip from Saint Petersburg to Vytegra was beautiful, we passed by birch trees, pines, and evergreens coupled with an abundant snowfall; the Russian “Heartland” is at a level of beauty that is hard to qualify.  We learned in our course that natural beauty is a strong paradigm of the Russian “Heartland” and it was evident in on our trip from Petersburg to Vytegra.  The monastery was also beautiful; we heard monks sing.  Last year I heard these monks sing and it was one of the many highlights of the trip.  However this year I believe the singing was even more amazing; the music brought me to tears.  And nearly everyone on the trip bought a CD of the Monks music.  I will post some photos of the monastery from last year( black and white film). 

It is hard to follow Denisovich’s last post; it was extremely eloquent and moving.  Being in Vytegra and its surrounding villages I have noticed many social differences that I did not experience last year.  On Tuesday we all went to a Youth club, and at this club we played many games.  There was one game in which a woman, who lead this club, put two photos up on a screen, and then asked us Americans, and the Russians, to tell her what the juxtaposition evoked for us.  The woman would then put another image on the screen to show what images meant together for her.  One of the pairs of images was a toothless chimpanzee and a hand grenade.  People in our group guessed many things, I though perhaps the image to later appear would be death.  I was shocked to see that the image the woman picked was a woman driving and even more shocked that the Russians, and many in our group, broke out in laughter.  Clearly social justice is not strong in this town; that is to say I was offended.  Later in the Village of Andoma we sat in a class room with eleventh grade students, and it seemed as though the teacher was allowing the children to be gender normative by saying “our boys like sports and are girls don’t”.  She believed that the only sport a girl could do was ice skating, but they do not have a skating rank and thus were not sporty.  Although I did experience some negative energy while being here, it is not to say that I am not having the time of my life, it just saddens me to see such backwardness in such a wonderful place. 
In fact I had so much fun at other points during the youth club.  If you are browsing the blog I really suggest watching Andrew’s video of us dancing.  This video just goes to show that, even though these are provincial Russians from a small town, they are amazing at just about everything.  They can dance, sing, speaking English well (a lot of them anyway), they are craftsmen, and excel at many subjects.  Schooling here is outstanding.  For people that our browsing the blog, and not in Vytegra, can look no further than Andrew’s video if they need an example of how talented Russians are compared to us. 
On the other hand, connecting with the youth this year has been especially rewarding.  Denisovich referenced last night’s get together with the Vyegor youth, and it was really an exciting and special point of the trip.  Before Denisovich asked those two girls to talk about homosexuals in Vytegra, the approached me first and asked “is it normal in your town to be gay?” And of course I answered yes.  I was eager to tell this to Denisovich because he, as he said, wanted to plant a positive seed about this topic.  I met some local little monsters (Gaga fans); this was a fantastic experience for me.  These monsters knew little English and so we talked about Gaga at length in Russian.  They also knew a lot about Russian Fairy tales, which was not only interesting context for my research project, but also another great way to connect and use Russian.  I was really glad to make some friends and practice Russian. 
In Vytegra I am researching the legendy and skazki native to Vytegra about Peter the Great.  With this information I hope to find the ethnographic importance of Peter the Great in Vytegra, from the past to the present.  I have got many historical documents to work with from the museum, and a few tales as well.  Some of these documents are difficult to translate because they were written in the 19th century Russian, and consequently use words such as “hath”.  Nonetheless they are very useful documents.  I also received more information from Elena, deputy mayor, about Peter the Great’s travels to Vytegra.  Yesterday I interviewed a woman that works at the museum, and gave us a tour of the Klyuev museum, about Peter the Great’s influence in Vytegra.  She was extremely knowledgeable about the legendy of Peter the great, and I was lucky enough to learn more legendy about Peter from her. 
I am extremely glad to be back in Vytegra right now! 

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