Thursday, March 22, 2007

Man Found Dead in Owl Cage

Dear Readers,
Sorry about the delay in the detailed Turkey posting, but I did say tomorrow-"ish". The moral of the story is don't believe "ish" people tell you.
Anyway the below story actually appeared in the Moscow Times today. Check the link for yourself.

Note that: the "owl is still in shock", "Luparev was believed to be drunk", and his death may have been caused by "an altercation with the owl". How bizarre can the truth be before it is not the truth anymore? P.S. My apartment is 5 blocks away from this zoo.

Moscow, Russia Thursday, March 22 Page 3
A scantily clad, 32-year-old man was found dead early Monday in a pool of blood in an owl cage at the Moscow Zoo.

A bird keeper at the zoo found the man, Alexander Luparev at about 10 a.m., lying in the cage, which is home to a Siberina long-tailed tawny owl.

Luparev, who fixed gas pipes for a living, was wearing only boxer shorts.

Vladimir Zdorenko, deputy prosecutor at the Presnenskaya interdistrict prosecutor's office, said it was not clear what killed the man --‑blood loss from a blow to the head, or freezing to death.

Luparev's clothes were strewn across the concrete base of the cage. Also found were his documents, an undisclosed amount of money, and a half-empty, one-liter bottle of vodka.

Sometime after midnight, Luparev climbed the gates of the staff entrance of the zoo, which is on Krasnaya Presnya Ulitsa, opposite the Krasnopresnenskaya metro station, prosecutors believe.

Luparev is believed to have been drunk.

He then made his way through the zoo and entered the unlocked owl cage via an unguarded staff entrance. That part of the zoo is not open to visitors. The owl is moved to a display cage during the summer.

At this point, no one quite knows what happened. Luparev apparently hit his head on the ground -- possibly following an altercation with the owl -- and fell unconscious.

He is believed to have died between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. The owl, which flew out of its cage after the incident, was found perched in a tree next door to the zoo Tuesday evening.

"The owl is still in a state of shock," zoo spokeswoman Natalya Istratova said Wednesday. She added that the owl was not eating or drinking and that she feared for its life.

Istratova declined to name the bird keeper who found Luparev. "She hasn't stopped crying," she said.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Istanbul -- Pictorial

Just got back to Moscow on the 2 am flight out of Istanbul. I am too tired to be properly snarky so here is Istanbul in 10 words. Blue, blue, blue, mosques, bazaars, Europe, Asia, randy old men.
Here are some pictures to accompany the 10 descriptive words. Full commentary tomorrow (ish).

Blue Mosque-- so named not for the slate gray color of the dome, but for the beautiful blue tiles inside. Our hotel was right around the corner, so we heard every single one of the 5 calls to prayer, each day, starting at 6 am. The mosque has 6 minarets, which was the maximum number a mosque could have, but then (not to be outdone) the mosque at Mecca added a 7th and now 7 is the maximum.

Hagia Sophia, or the Church of St. Sophia or the Church of Wisdom. This 1,500 year old structure was originally built in 537 as a Christian church. When Islam came to Turkey, it was converted to a mosque-- note the 4 minarets. It is now a museum. The inside is exquisite. The Hagia Sophia is right (literally) across the street from the Blue Mosque.

This is the famous underground Cistern. This cistern held water collected in the forest outside Istanbul and transported via aqueducts. There are 28 rows of 12 columns. This cistern also house the famous Medusa heads. If this location looks at all familiar to you, then you must be a Bond fan. Part of "From Russia with Love" was shot in the cistern. While the water is only about 6-10 inches deep, many, many fish live in the cistern. There is also a wishing well. I threw in 5 lira and wished that I would be fluent in Russian before I leave. I am telling you my wish, dear reader (and thereby invalidating it) because I know that it will not come true. So I prefer to believe that I "broke" the spell, rather than to believe that wishing wells don't really work.



The blue wavy stuff is the Bosphorus Straits.

By the way, on about a 11 on the ick factor, the Bosphorus is filled with jellyfish. I have never seen more jellyfish in all my life. They were literally hundreds of clusters of hundreds of jellys. Ick, ick, ick.

This is me at the top of Pierre Lotti Hill. Pierre Lotti was a French writer who came to Istanbul and fell in love with a cafe, the city and a Turkish woman (I think in that order). He said that the best view of the city was from the site that now bears his name.

This is a picture of a totally licensed legitimate sweatshirt featuring Teutonic basketball sensation Dirk Nowitzki. Now, I have always thought that Dirk bore more than a passing resemblance to Ben Wallace (separated at birth?), but I could never articulate my thoughts until I happened upon this sweatshirt. If anyone in the blogosphere has access to Dirk's e-mail, please make sure he sees this.

I am really working hard on getting Hep A before this Fellowship is over. My latest attempt revolves around buying one of these fruits -- still attached to the tree branches -- and asking this guy with his super-clean hands to peel and cut the mystery fruit for me. Yeah, I ate it and two of my fellow Fellows did as well. The fruit tastes like an apple that really wanted to be a pineapple and at the last minute decided to be a pear, but it was too late. Again, if the blogosphere has any idea what this fruit is, holla back.

This the carpet that I purchased on my last day in Istanbul. Uber-long story, but the carpet is a Bukhara-type (Uzbek) carpet. I found out that I don't really like the typical Turkish carpet design.

Hope this quick pictorial satisfies you, dear reader, for the time being. I would strongly recommend Istanbul to any traveller - old, young, married, single, with kids or without. There is something to do and see for everyone. Kids will love the playgrounds and ubiquitous sweets. Adults will love the bazaars, fresh seafood and the nightlife.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Snow Rant

OK. I know that it has only been cold and snowy for about 10 days, but I have had enough already with the weather in general and the snow in particular.

First of all, it does not have to be this damn cold to snow. I did not miss that day in seventh grade Earth Science when we discussed precipitation. It need only be 32 F (0 C, for my European readers) for it to successfully snow. Optimal temperature for snowfall is like 28 F (-2 C). It needn't be any colder. Really, it needn't. In Moscow, it has consistently been between -9 C and -14 C (13 F and 4 F) everyday, but especially on the days I have to work. The cold is like a school yard bully. Every day, I go outside, thinking to myself, if I just keep my head down and keep moving, he won't mess with me. Some days it works. But some days the weather picks on me like I was a boy named Sue.

Secondly, why can't I get some "Its A Wonderful Life" big, fat flakes of beautiful snow, slowly, silently drifting down to cover eyelashes and streetlanes alike? No, no, my brother, not in Moscow. Firstly, we don't get big, fat, floaty flakes (sounds like a great name for a generic-brand breakfast cereal). We get these little tiny, icy projectiles, perfect for the wind to whip right into your face and sting your skin and eyes. I like to think of these as Republican flakes, because they always seem at height of their power during rush hour, tirelessly hounding and oppressing the commuters on their way to work.

Thirdly, we only ever get enough accumulation to make the sidewalks slippery enough to fall and bust your.. .well you know. This is especially true of the entrances and exits of the metro --again with the commuters (I sense a vast, right-wing Republic weather conspiracy).

As a rule the metro entrances/exits are made of either marble or polished stone. Because the entrances to the metros are superheated (big fans blast shockwaves of hot air onto the commuters as soon as they reach the vestibles), the approaches are always slushy. If you think snow is bad, slushy steps are a slippery nightmare. The steps are so dangerous that I saw Russians seeking out the handrails to guide themselves down the stairs. When Russians seek out safety devices, you have to know that the situation is beyond dire. Seeing Russians act responsibly was actually a little frightening for me, kind of like seeing your parents cry.

Russians seem not to believe in or be aware of salt, sand or any other device that provides traction or melting potential. They are big believers in shovelling. There are brigades of men, almost all Central Asian, that shovel and sweep the sidewalks, but not all the sidewalks. I am not aware of what the sidewalk shovelling criteria is, but it exists and is being implemented. This means that about 40% of the sidewalks that I use to get to work are not shovelled. The only upside is that walking in snow/slush/ice pack does wonders for your glutes and quads. I think my butt is going to end up in the middle of my back, if this weather continues.

Well, now that you have that lovely image in your head, go back to work. I am officially over my rant. As a woman, I do deserve the right to restart, amend and even reverse said rant anytime in the immediate to unforeseeable future.

Up Next: Istanbul

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Weekend Update -- A Few Days Late

I must inform the entire Western world that it actually snowed in Moscow over the weekend. I was remiss in not taking pictures, because Moscow really is quite beautiful when it snows. Now all the Russians can finally stop walking around with long faces, lamenting the absence of a "real winter". I have to admit, I too, wanted a real Russian winter as well. When people ask me about my (almost) year here, I want to be able to give them what the want. "Yeah, it snowed up to my knees every day, my eyelashes froze on several occasions" etc, etc. Instead if warm trend doesn't break, I will have to sheepishly admit that it did get down to 34 degrees that one really cold night.

So the snow came, but there was only about 2-3 inches of accumulation. The streets are bare now. However, the cold has arrived. This afternoon, it was 18 degrees. And it is expected to get down to 12 degrees tonight.

This cold streak has brought a lot of fur coats out of cold storage. I saw this one (not sure of the noun to use here) obsenity, monstrosity, curiousity in this purple, yes, I said purple fur coat. In looking at this coat, I thought OK, maybe she got it for like 96% off -- which would still have been a rip-off. Then I thought, now I know why there are no purple fur-bearing animals, Barney notwithstanding. The woman looked like she was wearing the offspring of Pepe Le Peu and Prince.

No more updates on metro purchases; I haven't really seen anything interesting and I am still looking for my rock lady. There was lady at the entrance to the metro when I left work this evening. She was holding a sign representing a company called "White Cat", but I couldn't catch the details. My Russian reading level isn't all that high and the metro entrance steps at rush hour is not really the time to test my reading comprehension.

I have just about 89 days left in the program. As I approach this deadline, I am getting a little melancholy for moreso the experiences and the relationships than the actual country. But I did realize that I will actually miss Moscow. I also feel like I am leaving a lot of experiences on the table. I am trying to visit Uzbekistan, Estonia and Turkey (and if the border reopens soon, Georgia) but that is a lot of traveling in 3 months.

I had dinner with a Russian friend who informed me that there was supposedly another terrorist attack planned for a central metro station at 7 pm tonight. As far as we both know, nothing actually happened, but all this continued, specific chatter is starting to wear on my nerves a bit. You can rationalize one notice as a over-reaction to a fluke or a mistake. Getting weekly notices of an impending terrorist attack is a little more difficult to explain or deny away.

Oh, last note of the night -- My interview with Trajan Langdon got cancelled in typical Russian fashion. So I called the CSKA Moscow Basketball teams Press Officer, Maria Kravchenko on Thursday and requested a meeting with Trajan Langdon. She immediately says yes, Monday at 8 pm. I said, uh..don't you want my name or contact information? She says no, just call me tomorrow and I will confirm that the player is OK with the time. So I call her on Friday and she says, yep 8pm Monday night. Practice ends at 7 pm, just call me when you get to the stadium. I said I will be bringing 3 people with me, do you need their names or ids? She said no. I say OK.
Monday comes and I just want to double-triple check on this appointment. So I call Maria at 4 pm and say I have a meeting at 8pm, are will still on. She says, well actually no, we need to cancel the meeting because there is a womens sport event at the stadium and the security will be tight. I said, well can't you just get us security passes. She says, OK, give me 20 minutes to solve this and call me back. I call back at 4:25 pm and the phone rings 25 times before a man answers. I ask for Maria Kravchenko. He puts the phone down and sing-songs out "Masha", there is a bit of rustling then dead silence. I hold on the phone, in the artificial silence for 3 minutes, until the guy comes back on the line. He then kindlly informs me that Masha has left for the day. I say how can that be? She was working on an issue for me. The guy gets all indignant and says, well I can't help you, I can just take your name and number? For what? I ask. The meeting is in 2.5 hours, if she calls me back tomorrow it will be too late. He mumbles something. So I cave and give him my name and number. I know that he wrote down this information accurately and immediately placed the message on Masha's desk. I know that is what happened.

Anyway, today I called Masha like 8 different times and the phone just rang and rang. So wish me luck in salvaging this interview. It is such a shame because it is really for a good cause. Something, somewhere, sometime has to break in our favor.

Until next post.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Metro Dailies Update

Dear Readers,
Today in the metro vending section... The old lady with the brown stones was nowhere to be found. I hope she is OK. In related news, a youngish, Caucasian (from the Caucasus) was selling a stone that takes the creosote of cruddy frying pans. I just had to buy one, because you never know when your frying pan will, out of nowhere, just crud up on you. One must always be prepared for the eventualities of life in the big city. The girl said the stone will work for 2 years, and I believe her, because everything a street vendor says about their products is always true.

Then I hit the double jackpot because, right next to the crud stone table, a really, really old woman was selling polyester kitchen aprons. I had to buy the one with multi-colored balloon faces with hats. It so cool because it looks like it was designed by either a developmentally delayed child or an adult mid-acid trip. No, you are not on an acid-trip, the brown stuff in the corner is my couch.

I am working on a really cool Financial Literacy project with the IBLF/Russia Partnership. I am setting strategy for a Financial Literacy Working Group. I have been involved with this group since I presented a paper at their orginal round-table meeting. Here are the links to some pix from that event (in October). As a result of this relationship, I got to attend a G8 summit meeting co-sponsored with the OECD on Financial Literacy efforts around the world. I was acrredited with the Russian delegation and so my home/sponsoring country was listed as Russia which I am sure befuddled all the other delegates. I never thought in a million years that I would be attending a G8 meeting. Unfortunately, the main take away from the meeting was how shockingly stultifying the meeting was. I made friends with the Russian Central Bank delegate (we were homies from the same country, see) and she slept through the entire first day. The next day, she gave an unintentionally hilarious presentation, including a video, which she starred in. I did not see the entire presentation because the coffee that I was mainlining took a serious toll on my bladder. Anyway, I made some great contacts and in the breaks, met some really awesome people.

On another happy note, I got permission to interview Trajan Langdan. For those of you who are not sports or basketball or Duke or Cavalier fans, Trajan is a Duke player, who played in the NBA for Cleveland and LA (Clippers) before heading to Europe and then Moscow. Trajan is bi-racial and I am involved (through my church) with a group called Metis. Metis means mixed-blood in Russian and the group offers supplementary classes (art, language, computers) as well as networking and support for bi-racial children and their families.

The US can be a difficult place to be bi-racial, so you can image how incredibly difficult it can be here in such a self-selecting, homogenous, xenophobic culture. In the US, everybody who speaks English without an accent is accepted, for the most part, as an American. In Russia you can live here for a 100 years and if your last name is not quite right and/or your skin tone is too dark, you are not considered Russian. Don't let that we love Pushkin and he was black nonsense fool you. Again, for the slow readers, if you do not have the right last name and your skin tone is not right, you are not Russian. I do not care if your Russian language is flawless, better than the best, you are not Russian, full stop.

So, I thought Trajan would be a great role model for the Russian kids. So we are going to meet him and pitch the idea to him. Secondarily, my friend from the embassy and I are working on a project to record the experiences of the African diaspora in post-Soviet Russia. We would like to interview Trajan for the project. Keep your fingers crossed that we get his approval and that he has a good story to tell. Ex-pats can choose to live a very insulated and charmed life, tamping down the inequalities and discomforts of Russian life with lots and lots of Russian roubles. Money can't buy love, but it definitely can purchase comfort and ease.

On the weather front (boy am I punny, see I did it again), it is pouring down rain, which means we still have not gotten a meaningful snowfall this entire 2006-07 winter. Its moved past the truly unbelievable into the downright weird, even a bit spooky.

Until tomorrow, dear readers. I remain vigilant in my search for unusual metro purchases.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I'm Baaaaack

Dear Readers,
I have returned from the US, smack dab into the middle of a terrorist threat. Today on the radio and TV, they announced that the Russian government (via unnamed "sources") had received a credible warning of an imminent terrorist attack in Russia. So the Russians respond by tripling the number of military and police on the streets, in the metros, pretty much everywhere.

I won't lie, I am scared as hell, because in Russia, the terrorists actually do commit terrorist acts. And I am scared on so many levels. Firstly, I have never lived in a city where I depended on public transportation as my primary and only means of moving around. I have to take the metro and/or bus everywhere I go. The above-ground traffic is so bad in the morning that I would have to leave my house like 2 hours early to catch more than 1 bus to work, plus buses are not exempt from terror.

Secondly, the metro is sketchy to begin with, so I usually uncap and aim my mace as a precautionary measure. Now, with the entire population jittery, I am afraid to display my mace, even discretely. I do not want to get jumped in the metro because people think my mace is sarin gas or some sort. Thirdly, now that I am effectively unarmed, I am scared of the native son/skinhead/bad guys who loiter in the metro looking for brown people like me to harass. I do not look or feel as confident without my trigger finger on my mace. So now, I am nervous and I am looking all around, trying to locate a threat before it/he locates me. This makes me look suspicious, and while I do not look Chechen (the usual terrorist suspects) I don't look anything close to Russian.

So in summary, I am scared that I am a possible general victim, unarmed specific victim and possible suspect. That is a lot of fear for one person to handle. It seems like fear is in the air. On the metro ride home tonight, it seemed like everyone was moving just a bit little faster, trying to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

However, I may have just been projecting my own concerns onto the general population. In the news reports, they asked Russians to be vigilant and keep an eye out for unusual events and report them to the police. I almost laughed out loud when I saw that. Russians never look around at anything in the metro. They keep their eyes focused at the book/magazine/newspaper in front of them, closed, or looking off into an unspecified point in the distance. Nobody looks at or acknowledges anybody else, (unless it is me, then let the staring contests commence). I tried to do my part by doing a panorama view of the metro car as I got in and once again when I sat down. I, alone, had my head on a swivel and looked like a damn fool doing it. So I stopped with the swivel head and started thinking, well if it does happen, I hope that the initial blast gets me. I don't want to be one of the "survivors" trapped in the cars, hurt and sweltering. Then I secretly hoped that it happened (to get the monkey off our collective backs) but somewhere else to some people I don't know. Then I felt ashamed, wishing death on innocent people, whose only qualification for dying in a terrorist attack is that I don't know them.

Well back to the salt mines tomorrow. Please pray to whatever god listens carefully to you, that none of us, here or in the world have to endure an attack.

On a lighter noted, my New Year's resolution is try and blog everyday-ish. I will make every effort, but bluntly, boys and girls, some days there just isn't that much interesting stuff happening. I get up late, race-walk to work, sit out my desk and strain my brain to comprehend all the Russian floating the in atmosphere, laugh a little, talk to my kids, come home, dine with friends and then I swear its 11 pm somehow. Next day, same thing.

However, the metro is always ripe with interesting possibilities, so at a minimum, I can share what was on sale in the metro. Yesterday an old lady was selling what seemed to be beige stones. Turns out they were pumice. Who knew? My favorite metro vendor of all time was the old man (with the fedora) who was selling the tops of spray bottles --yeah, just the tops. The best part of his vending was that he had spray bottle tops -- wait for it -- in an assortment of colors; red, blue and purple. I had never seen anything like it. I sorely wished I had a need for a purple spray bottle top, because I would have bought one. Actually, it would be a cool book idea to buy one of everything sold in the metro, interview the merchant and photograph the items. Hmmm....

Well, that ends this edition of the Russia blog. Keep your comments coming.

PS There still has not been any significant snowfall this winter. Between this and the terrorists, the Muscovites are all going to need therapy. Fortunately (?) two inches of snow is forecast for this weekend.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A really funny story -- Only in Russia

Ok. The pastor of our church, Pastor John, drives a mini-van. For some reason, he gets stopped frequently. Actually, for no apparent reason, he gets stopped frequently by the traffic police or DPS. The DPS have little huts next to the major roads all over the city. They just step out into traffic and pull you over by pointing their batons. So the first time Pastor John gets stopped, he's all Americanified and like "What, I know that I have not violated any laws". So the traffic cop says, "Nevertheless, you need to take Breatherlyzer test, I will demonstrate". Then the DPS blows into the Breatherlyzer. Nothing happens. The cop hands the Breatherlyzer to Pastor John and says "Do what I did". Pastor John obliges. He blows into the Breatherlyzer. Nothing happens. The cop says "You can go on your way". Pastor John thinks that the whole situation was odd, but he has been in Russia long enough not to question anything. Not a week passes and Pastor John is pulled over again. Again he thinks " What, I know I have not violated any laws". So the traffic again says "Nevertheless, you need to take a Breatherlyzer test, I will demonstrate". Then the DPS blows into the Breatherlyzer. This time the lights on the test go off and the thing starts beeping. At this point, Pastor John says, "I'm not blowing in that thing now." The legally established drunk cop say "OK, just blow in my face". Pastor John dutifully blows in the drunk, on-duty, traffic cop's face. The cop inhales (I presume) and says "You can go on your way".

This is such a hilarious, true and perfect anecdote for life in Russia, that I could not resist sharing it with you all.