Loud, rumbling BOOMS

September 17, 2013

On my way to the market this morning, I heard them in the distance–loud, rumbling booms that I had been warned about.  Not thunder, though thunder would have been plausible during this most unusual rainy stretch.  Instead, I heard Soviet-era bombs, left over from the Cold War, detonating just southwest of Pereyaslav.  Every Tuesday, this ritual commences and subsides in about an hour’s time, like clockwork, I have been told.  Now that the distant rumbling is gone,, only the sounds of everyday life here remain: dogs bantering back and forth, a goat negotiating loudly his way to high grasses, women chattering away on the corner, workers pounding water pipes in a nearby trench, my heart beating in rhythm with this country so far removed from my home.

S’more news from Ukraine!

September 10, 2013

I introduced Ukrainian students to s’mores today:

One of my host professors, Petro (Pete), asked me to join his class today to explain the American tradition of roasting marshmallows because he was planning a field trip to a nearby park to let students roast their own marshmallows.  He sent some students to buy small bags of marshmallows (slightly different from US marshmallows) from the local modern grocery store, EkoMarket, and I brought along one of the bags of marshmallows that I had brought with me. I also brought along a box of graham crackers and a package of Hershey’s chocolate bars.  Pete had not known about the s’more tradition, so he was delighted that I had brought the extra ingredients.  We built a fire in the woods and smashed marshmallows onto the ends of fresh twigs gathered by the first-year English grammar students while the fire grew.  Students were skeptical at first…but finished off all the marshmallows, crackers, and chocolate!  “So sticky!” they exclaimed, “but delicious!”

One professor has asked me to correct the textbook she uses and to differentiate between the British and American English examples included in the text.  She also had me practice some useful Ukranian phrases that mean “I’m lost” (zahu bylasia) and “Can you help me please?” (do po mo zhit, budlaska?).  They will be useful when I go to Kyiv, I am sure.  The traditional Ukranian sentence pattern is the same as American English: Subject + Verb + Object.  That makes communicating a little bit easier for me, thanks to the handy dandy little phrase book a friend gave me, but I still stumble through the constructions.  Thank goodness everyone is patient!  I am convinced I give many workers plenty to talk about with friends!  Every day I learn something new to say.


No autographs yet!

September 4, 2013
Though Sam Nelson (History professor on the Willmar campus) warned me that students might want my autograph…that hasn’t happened yet :-)  The students, however, seem genuinely excited about their visiting native speaker, bubbling over in the hallway when I walk by, trying to get in the perfectly formed “Hello!” or “Good day!”  It is adorable!  I have only observed classes thus far, and the professors have allowed some small measure of class time for students to ask me questions.  So far, the only one I hesitated to answer–but answered it anyway–was “How old are you?”  I laughed in surprise and told her it was a question no one ever asks an American woman.  I assured her that it was okay to ask me the question anyway.  Later, the professor told me that it was good for them to see “someone of your age” wiling to explore the world.  Ukranians, apparently, believe life is half over at 30 or 35.  All of the students here are traditional students: 17-22.  There is not one non-traditional student among them.  Even students pursuing their Master’s degrees pursue them right out of college (5th and 6th year).  Those who finish the 5th and 6th years can teach at colleges and universities. The professor said that it is important for these young students to begin to think of 30 or 35 as life just beginning.

Yesterday, I was invited to lunch at the home of two professors.  What a spread!  It was simple but very delicious, as everything here has been.  We began with a cauliflower-and-carrot soup with bread followed by two eggplant dish (one with peppers and mayonnaise and the other with onions and a drizzle of oil), slices of chilled pig fat, chunks of sweet red pepper, some kind of cucumber non-pickle, and dry porridge–more like rice than the runny version served in the tale of the Three Bears.  After all of that, the hosts served a meringue-layered dessert with crushed nuts–very interesting–then melon and cheese.  I stayed so long (5 hours!) that they must have thought they had to keep feeding!!!  The hosts were excited to ask questions about colloquial English and differences between American and British English.  They have known Brooks, the other guest at the table (a Peace-Corp volunteer) since January, but they said it was interesting to hear his southern drawl as it contrasted with my northern clips.  Since one is a phonetics expert, he watched our mouths carefully as we spoke.  He particularly liked our versions of the word “moon.”  Under the microscope of sorts we were!

More from Ukraine

September 2, 2013

I was invited to sit in on a couple classes today at the university.  Loved it!  The first-year students are struggling with sounding out English words.  Very cute.  The third-year students spent time today learning new vocabulary and interpreting an English story into Ukranian–a few sentences at a time.  They did very well from my standpoint, though I am convinced the professor did not think so.  Both professors who let me join them speak very good English, so they are not going to let their students get by with anything less than their best.  Both also absolutely LOVE the language!  I’m going back tomorrow to visit another class and join these two professors for lunch at their apartment.  They plan to invite the peace-corps volunteer, Brooks, to join us.  Apparently, he is very popular with the students because he runs the English Club, which I will join.  There, students will practice their conversational skills with us.  I cannot wait!  It sounds like such fun!!!

This morning, as I was enjoying my coffee while looking out onto the street below, a parade of children–all dressed up in dresses and suits, even the youngest of them–carrying bouquets of flower for their teachers passed by.  What a lovely tradition!  Parents were dressed in their best, too.  It was quite a show!

Minnesota’s weather is now colder than ours is here.  It has been chilly here in the mornings but warms up in the afternoons nicely.

Just got back from an hour and a half walk.  I wanted to see the river behind our building up close and personal.  Two old women zipped past me on their bikes, buckets swinging off the handlebars, ready to carry back something–maybe squash from their gardens or fish from the river.  Many if not most people walk or ride bikes around here, but there are still many cars.  The little Fiats look like Soviet-era models: small and boxy.  They just make me smile as they rattle by.

I went to the grocery store BY MYSELF today and bought a few more hangars, a toenail clipper, and fingernail files.  The checkout woman just smiled at me as I tried to understand what she said.  “Ya nyee roz-mow-lya-yu ukrain inskoo yu,” I offered, which made her smile more broadly and then point at a plastic bag.  I shook my head to tell her I didn’t need the bag.  I guess you have to pay for the bags you use.  Whew.  Made it out of there alive!

I have arrived!

by: Kathy Steffen


My introduction to this land of my great-grandmother has been nothing less than enchanting.  My hosts, both professors who teach here in Pereyaslav and in Kyiv, are helping me to acclimate: feeding me traditional Ukranian foods, showing me how to purchase things I need, and taking me to the market.  The market is amazing!  People from all over Pereyaslav come together just down the street from where I live to sell their goods: jars of fresh raspberries, still-warm homemade bread, just-made cottage cheese (like you have never seen or tasted before!), live piglets and chickens and buckets of corn and barley to feed them, plucked poultry of all kinds and fish still flapping in the buckets, quail eggs, honey and hand-gathered pollen (for good health), melons, carrots, beets, and potatoes–lots and lots of potatoes!  Then, there are doorknobs, car parts, plumbing supplies, and other tidbits, all salvaged from their original homes and equipment.  Further along are jeans and purses, leather coats and Nike shoes, bars of soap and henna dye, handmade knives and knitted wool socks.  Simply amazing!  Throngs of people from Kyiv, an hour away, make the trip on Sundays to get the things they need for the week because the food here is so fresh and delicious–“because they are grown without chemicals,” my host tells me.  “But always buy from the old women to be sure,” she adds.


Today I visited two classes at the university where I will be teaching: One first-year class (where students were still working on the English alphabet, sounds, and beginning grammar) and one third-year class (where students were learning vocabulary words with multiple meanings and interpreting English stories into Ukranian).  Tomorrow, I will return to observe more classes.  Afterward, I will go to the apartment of two professors of English with a Peace-Corps volunteer here who runs the English Club, which I will join to help Ukranian students practice conversational English.  I will begin teaching next week, perhaps, depending upon how many students are interested in taking my classes; that I will find out on Friday when I am formally introduced to the university community.

Ridgewater sends a second Fulbright instructor overseas

Article Courtesy of The Hutchinson Leader

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 6:00 am | Updated: 7:26 am, Wed Aug 28, 2013.

By TERRY DAVIS davis@hutchinsonleader.com


For the second consecutive year, a Ridgewater College instructor will teach in a former Soviet Union country under the Fulbright Scholarship Program.

Kathy Steffen, who has taught English on the Hutchinson campus since 1997, leaves today for a semester teaching education courses at the university in Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky. It is a small city of 30,000 people about an hour from Kiev, Ukraine.

Steffen will work with both students who are studying to be teachers and with teachers upgrading their teaching skills. She’ll return in late December.

Her assignment follows on the heels of Sam Nelson, a history instructor at Ridgewater’s Willmar campus.

Nelson returned in early June following a full year in Kazan, the capital of the Tartarstan province 500 miles east of Moscow on the Volga River. His wife, Sandra, a second-grade teacher, took a leave to spend the year in Russia with him.


Inspired by mentor

Steffen said she became interested in being a Fulbright Scholar instructor through a professor who told about his Fulbright experience while teaching a class Steffen was taking.

“He suggested it was something I might want to experience, too,” she said.

When she decided to apply, the question became where to go. Applications usually are made a year before the teaching assignment. It requires letters of recommendations, course proposals for classes an instructor would teach, and an essay on why they want to participate. Applicants are screened in the U.S. and forwarded to the potential host country.

“I wanted to teach some education courses, because I teach the same graduate courses at St. Cloud (State University),” Steffen said. That focused her search on countries needing that type of instruction and led her to Ukraine, the homeland of one of her great-grandmothers.

“I was curious about that part of my heritage,” she said.

While in Ukraine, Steffen will rent an apartment. The college students are mostly fluent in English.

Her research has revealed Ukraine is caught between its past as a Soviet republic and those still tied to the communist past, mostly the older generations, and the younger people who are gravitating toward Western ideas and ways of life.

“We are ambassadors of our culture, but I want to learn as much from them as they learn from me,” she said.

She plans to send messages to Ridgewater officials who will post them to a website blog or Facebook site linked on Ridgewater College’s website.


Historical interpretations

Nelson said his year in Russia revealed some of the same generational differences. He called it a great experience to trade different perspectives of American history.

“I think (college age people) had a very rose-colored view of American history,” he said. “They very much believe in the American Dream. I had them write about America or Americans and the word dream came up all the time.”

He expected to see more of the old, Cold War animosity, but didn’t experience it among his students. But he learned there were some different views among older generations.

He was frequently asked by people, especially taxi drivers, how much money Americans made. Incomes are much lower in Russia, but they also still have many socialized services. He came to appreciate what Americans have, even with problems we may have.

Nelson, who teaches European history at the Willmar campus, will use his experience to as part of a new global studies course he will be teaching.

“It was a great honor and a life opportunity,” he said.

Travels in Russia: St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is Russia’s second most important city and is considered its northern capital.  The city has had several names, most notably Leningrad during the Soviet era, but reverted to St. Petersburg in 1991.  Built by Peter the Great in 1703 , the city served as Russia’s capital until supplanted by Moscow in 1918.  Owing to its history (Peter welcomed European architects, artists, et al.) and geographic location (on the Gulf of Finland facing Scandinavia and Europe), St. Petersburg is a magnificent combination of European and Russian cultures.

Erected in 1834 to honor Tsar Alexander I and the defeat of Napoleon, the Alexander Column is the world’s largest freestanding column. It is located in the center of Palace Square outside the Winter Palace/Hermitage. It took 3,000 men just 2 hours to erect the 600 ton column!  Legend has it that in order to reassure people that it would not topple over, the architect walked his dog around the column daily without fear.

A popular tourist attraction in Palace Square is to ride in a replica of Catherine the Great’s carriage.

The old entrance to the Hermitage, St. Petersburg’s incredible art museum, was supported by 10 muscular men.

He doesn’t seem to think it’s very heavy!

Although I wrote about the Hermitage in a previous blog on the arts in Russia, there are so many extraordinary works that it’s impossible to capture it all. The chandeliers alone are worth the price of admission!

One of the most amazing works of art in the Hermitage is the Peacock Clock, an 18th century automaton created by James Cox, an Englishman, as a gift for Catherine the Great.  The mechanical clock’s features include the golden peacock turning its head, fanning its tail, and opening its mouth before returning to its stationary position.  An owl and cockerel also move.

One of the beautiful Russian thrones preserved in the Hermitage.

Raphael’s Loggia is recreated in the Hermitage and features 52 biblical scenes in chronological order. One could spend hours admiring the art in this long corridor.

St. Isaac’s is a cathedral of colossal proportions. Its architect was haunted by a premonition that when the cathedral was finished, he would die.  He delayed completion as long as he could, but with completion of the project forty years later, the architect did indeed die soon thereafter.

The colonnade of St. Isaac’s provides a bird’s eye view of the magnificent admiralty complex.

St. Petersburg is crisscrossed by rivers and canals; hence, it’s sometimes called the “Venice of the North.” These monuments are called the Rostral Columns.  Close-ups follow below.

Gas lanterns at the top of the columns are still lit for ceremonial occasions.

Because there are so many rivers and canals in St. Petersburg, the bridges are frequently adorned with sculptures.  The four sculptures below, located at the corners of Anichkov Bridge on Nevisky Prospekt (St. Petersburg’s Champs de Elysee), depict the process of taming a horse.  Additional symbolism of the horse tamers statues is thought to reflect the development of nation-states.

Capturing the horse.

Getting acquainted?!

Settling down….

Trained and ready.

Another horse photo? What makes this one unusual is that it was the first equestrian statue in Europe that was supported only by the two rear legs, an unprecedented technical achievement for the time (1859). Most horse statues use the tail for additional support. The monument is to Tsar Nicholas I and was created by Pyotr Klodt, the same man who sculpted the horse tamers above.

St. “Beliebersburg” :-)

Next post:  Russia and World War II

Travels in Russia: Moscow

“Moscow”:  Before arriving in Russia, the word and the place brought to mind many images and thoughts…Red Square, onion-domed cathedrals, the center of communism in the 20th century, and the Kremlin to name but a few.  What I have found after numerous visits to Moscow is an international city of contrasts, not unlike Russia as a whole.   On the one hand a thriving, modern metropolis of 15 million people; on the other, a centuries old city that preserves and celebrates its culture and heritage.  With its towering red brick walls and twenty lookout towers, nothing typifies this confluence of modernity and history better than the Kremlin.

Trinity Tower is the main entrance into the Kremlin.

The Kremlin wall, as evidenced by this photo and the one below, is an imposing edifice.  It has stood the test of time–and Russian winters!–since the late 15th century.

The Kremlin walls are from 3 to 7 feet thick and, taking into account the sloping terrain toward the river, from 16 to 62 feet high.  The wall is nearly a mile and a half in circumference, enclosing an area of about 68 acres.

Inside the Kremlin is a mix of 500-year old cathedrals, palaces for the tsars, historical museums, military armories, and modern government buildings.  Most of the interior is closed to visitors, something I learned on our first visit when I wandered off the permitted tourist area (unknowingly, of course) and was whistled down by the ever present military guards.  The focal point is called Cathedral Square where several beautiful cathedrals face each other.

This glittering array of golden onion domes and crosses adorns the top of the “Church of the Deposition of the Robe of the Holy Virgin.”

The beautiful entrance to the Assumption Cathedral.

The Ivan the Great Bell Tower consists of numerous bells that are rung on national holidays.

The Tsar Bell is the largest bell in the world weighing in at a mind boggling 220+ tons.

The Tsar Bell was never rung because it broke during the casting process. The broken piece weighs over 10 tons.

This giant cannon is another example of the “bigness” of Russia.

The next generation of Russian military leaders marching inside the Kremlin.  I would guess they were probably about 10-12 years old.

Outside the Kremlin along its west wall is the space known as Red Square (it’s more like a rectangle).  It is on this space where Lenin’s Mausoleum is found.  (Unfortunately, it was closed during my visits for re-preserving him!)  It is the most famous place to stroll in Russia.

The vast expanse of Red Square is difficult to capture in a single photograph, but this is taken from the north end looking south toward St. Basil’s Cathedral.

On the north end of Red Square, opposite St. Basil’s, is the colossal Russian History Museum.

Opposite the Kremlin wall and Lenin’s Mausoleum is a building that extends nearly the entire eastern length of Red Square–the GUM (pronounced “goom”) shopping center, a beautiful 19th century building.

Three glass domed roofs extend the entire length of the building. Each shopping lane is three levels, linked by catwalks. There are over 200 stores in the shopping center.

Many countries have a “mile zero” (or more commonly “kilometer zero”) marker; Russia is no exception. Its marker is just outside Red Square where people gather to throw a coin over their shoulder and make a wish. We saw several “babushkas” (Russian grandmothers) swoop in to pocket the coins.

The most common souvenir sold in Moscow (and Russia) is the famous matryoshka or nesting dolls. The largest and most expensive one I have seen featured 32 hand painted dolls and cost $10,000!

A great many outdoor sculptures can be found throughout Moscow. Most memorialize military or political figures. This one, however, honors one of Russia’s long line of literary giants, Mikhail Sholokhov, for his Nobel prize winning novel, And Quiet Flows the Don.

Peter the Great is memorialized in this statue for creating the Russian navy. It is one of the 10 tallest statues in the world.

One of the most visible monuments to the Soviet era in Moscow is a series of buildings known as the “Seven Sisters.” Built between 1947 and 1953, and combining Gothic and Russian architectural styles, the seven buildings are now used as hotels, government buildings, and apartments. One of the sisters is Moscow State University that includes a dormitory with over 5,000 rooms! The “sister” pictured here is the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building.

The Soviet era of Russian history (1917-1991) is evident everywhere in Moscow (and Russia).  Most notably, every city features at least one statue of the father of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin.

Lenin’s visage is the most famous in Russia, depicted here in the Moscow subway system.

One of the great achievements of the Soviet era was building the subway system that still serves Moscow today. As mentioned in the previous Russian art and culture blog post, not only does the “Metro” include beautiful art and sculpture, it moves 9 million people per day! In my eight trips to Moscow utilizing the metro at every time of day and every day of the week, I never waited more than 30 seconds for the next train.  The price just went up to $1 per ride!

The symbol of the USSR–the hammer and sickle–found in the dome of a subway station.

Next post:  St. Petersburg

Russia’s Tatar Culture

The city of Kazan is the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan Republic and the world capital for ethnic Tatars.  Of the 5.5 million Tatars in Russia, 2 million live in Tatarstan, and approximately half of Kazan’s 1.2 million population is Tatar.  Our experience in Kazan has thus been doubly enriched from experiencing both Russian and Tatar cultures.

Tatars are native to the Kazan region and like indigenous people the world over, founded their settlements on or near water; in the case of the Tatars, along the banks of the Volga River.  “Bolgar,” north of Kazan on the Volga, is considered the original home of the Tatars as well as the birthplace of their Muslim faith.

On a beautiful fall day last September we took a boat to Bolgar. The Volga River, Europe’s longest, reminded us of our own Mississippi River, with its embankments, fall colors, and Lake Pepin like width.

On the way to Bolgar the boat made several stops at floating “train” (i.e., boat) stations like this one. Passengers were required to exit and enter the boat very quickly.

This map of ancient Bolgar gives you a sense of how large the Tatar capital was, including in the foreground a depiction of its kremlin walls.

This structure covers the primary ruins of ancient Bolgar.

In the foreground are the restored ruins of Bolgar’s original mosque; in the background, the just completed 21st century mosque majestically overlooks the Volga (see photo below).

Bolgar is considered a pilgrimage site for Tatars, both to pay homage to their presumed birthplace and to commemorate the founding of Islam in Tatarstan.

The tall tower is the restored minaret from the original, ancient mosque. Of special note is the presence of the Russian Orthodox cathedral (green roofs with crosses), symbolizing both in stone and in reality the centuries long peaceful co-existence of Christianity and Islam in Tatarstan.

Owing to its position as the seat of Tatar culture, there are numerous Tatar museums, libraries, and performing arts venues throughout Kazan.

Sandra and our daughter, Ana, outside the entrance to the Tatarstan History Museum.

Wood carvings that depict particular periods in early Tatar history are featured in a series of cases with beautiful quilts providing the background.

Period costumes are displayed as well.

Although difficult to photograph through reflective glass, this ornate jewelry is typical of Tatar culture.

The next series of photos feature a re-created Tatar village in Kazan.  Massive pine logs provide the superstructure for the buildings.

Tatar history includes a nomadic, horse phase. Horse meat is standard fare of Tatar cuisine.

This amazing chair and table were created from a whole tree trunk.

This Tatar elder doll welcomes visitors to the village souvenir shop as well as to souvenir shops throughout Kazan.

The neighborhood we live in is Kazan’s original Tatar settlement area.  Many of the old wooden structures are being renovated.  Walking by these colorful buildings brightened many a drab winter’s day.

We have savored many Tatar dishes, two of which are featured below.

“Elesh” is akin to a mini chicken pot pie. The flavorful pastry is filled with chicken, potatoes, and seasonings.

Everyone who visits Kazan samples this treat and takes it back to wherever they came from as a gift. It’s called “chak chak”–fried dough drenched in honey and sugar. Best enjoyed with a cup of tea as it is sweet enough to give you instant cavities!

Tatars celebrate their customs and heritage through the visual and performing arts.  We have attended music performances, the ballet, and theatre productions at dedicated Tatar venues.

Performances at the Kamal Theatre are in the Tatar language. Live translations (via ear buds) are provided for Russian and English speakers. One of the performances we attended was a comedy and audience laughter followed a typical translation pattern: native Tatar speakers would laugh immediately, then there would be a delayed reaction by the Russian speakers, and then we English speakers would laugh last…rather obviously!

The sloping, blue-tiled roof of the theatre shines brilliantly on sunny days.

The interior of the theatre is a modern blend of marble, water, and light.

For children and adults alike, the most famous of Tatar legends is “Shurale,” aka The Tickle Monster.  A forest creature, he has webbed feet, long fingers, green skin, and a single horn on his head.  If you’re not careful, he will lure you into the forest and tickle you to death!

This painting of Shurale is found in the Tatarstan National Library.

We walk by this sculpture of Shurale regularly. It’s a part of a large plaza with beautiful fountains fronting the Kamal Theatre.  Laughter is good, but not when Shurale is around!

Next post:  Moscow

Russian Cultural Differences

As with all new cultural experiences, comparisons with one’s own culture are inevitable; neither better nor worse, just different.  What follows are some very random, miscellaneous examples that I have observed and/or learned about, sometimes the hard way!

Flowers themselves are not a cultural oddity, but there are a couple of idiosyncrasies related to them. First, flower shops are open 24 hours. No excuse for not bringing flowers for any occasion at any hour! Second, flowers need to be purchased in odd numbers. An even number of flowers is only for funerals.  No dozen roses!

Security and (mis)trust concerns can be seen everywhere, but not always in the way you would normally expect.  For example, at the airport you’ll find special machines that shrink wrap your luggage, apparently to prevent baggage handlers from rifling through it.  It’s rather strange to see a piece of luggage wrapped in lime green saran wrap being wheeled through the airport!  Another example:  before entering a grocery store you hand over your purse, computer briefcase, or shopping bags to a woman who wraps it in a heat sealed bag in order to prevent shoplifting.  And at the institute where I teach, I have to check out and sign for the key to my classroom, then return it after my class (up and down 5 flights of stairs…no elevator!).  Finally, in a typical apartment like ours, there are as many as three keys that set deadbolt locks into a steel door frame.

The two locks above and the one below the door handle control a series of multiple deadbolts.  This photo is taken from inside.

Each of the 9(!) holes receives a deadbolt corresponding to the three locking mechanisms in the previous photo above.  On a tangential, door-related note, you aren’t supposed to shake hands or extend a gift across a threshold.  I made that mistake last week when a professor introduced himself to me while standing outside my classroom door.  I automatically extended my hand, but he refused it until he had entered the room.  Ooops!

Clothes dryers are rare in Russia.  Most people hang their clothes on a drying rack like the one below.

The heat in Russia is hot water and it is centrally controlled.  There is no individual thermostatic control, so if it gets too hot, people just open their windows.   The heat comes on in the fall when temperatures start to drop.  We knew when it came on because it sounded like the pipes were going to explode!  We don’t know when it’s turned off–I guess when the weather warms up, hopefully sometime soon!

The silver tubes have hot water running through them, and are found in every bathroom.  It’s nice to have a warm towel after a shower, especially in the winter.  Also pictured is our washing machine, a small, but very efficient unit.

Typical of European-style bathrooms, the toilet is in a separate room adjacent to the bathroom sink and tub/shower. It’s more like a closet; hence, the acronym “WC” for “water closet.”

Napkins are displayed in every restaurant the same way–folded and fanned out in a holder.  They are cocktail size and not put in one’s lap.  Even when linen napkins are provided in nicer restaurants, the ubiquitous triangle folded napkins are still on the table.

A lot of the construction we have seen in Kazan involves manual labor.  That may explain why the unemployment rate is relatively low in Russia (currently 5.8%).

There are miles and miles of sidewalks in Kazan like this one, made from thousands of individual pavers.

Each of the pavers is individually placed by hand and tamped into position with a rubber mallet.

Road construction included an army of manual laborers.  You can see their shovels in the picture below.

Besides the shovels, this photo also shows 3-inch thick yellow styrofoam that was installed the entire length of this major road in Kazan. I suppose it was used to insulate the central hot water heat system that appeared to be piped under the road.

There is no OSHA in Russia.  Looking out both our bedroom and living room apartment windows we have observed construction projects where the workers appear to be risking life and limb.

We look out on this beautiful building from our bedroom window, where a new roof has been installed over the time we’ve been here. Note the workers atop this 3-story roof and the close-up in the second picture below. We sometimes cringe at the thought of a worker slipping on the snowy, metal roof.

Don’t fall!

This photo is out our living room window where workers in both the foreground and background appear to work without fear of falling.

There are fewer restrictions on alcohol consumption in Russia; to wit, beer on tap available at Subway.

These are two popular Russian beer brands–“Barrel” and Kozel.

Like the country itself, Russian pool tables are immense.  American pool tables are 4’x9′ while the Russian table is 6’x12′.  Also, the pockets are only millimeters larger than the billiard ball (see second photo below).

Viktor, a young Russian acquaintance of mine, schooled me in Russian billiards.

Since the pockets are barely larger than the ball, Russian pool requires a different strategy (i.e., not trying to pocket balls at a severe angle), something I was rather slow to pick up on!

Real fur coats are a common sight, despite their expense (upper hundreds to thousands of dollars).

I snapped this picture while strolling around Red Square in Moscow. From what I could tell, it appeared to be three generations of fur: the granddaughter in black holding her grandfather’s hand, the grandmother in black fur to her left, and the mother a step ahead in the white fur.

Boots and shoes are an important style statement in Russia.  Despite some recent sloppy weather, Russian footwear is always kept clean and sharp.  We’ve noticed that one of the first things people do upon entering a building is clean off their shoes (not just wipe off the soles on a rug).  Further evidence of the importance of footwear is the presence of little shoe shops like the one pictured below.

This shoe shop is no more than a 4×8 building. It sells everything for shoes and boots as well as provides repair services.

High heeled boots are the footwear of choice for all women with the possible exception of the older “babushkas” (grandmothers). Women claim that the high heels actually help them navigate the snow and ice better than flat soled shoes because they can dig in the heel for stability.

Kazan’s Kremlin is the most popular place for weddings or at least wedding photographs.  We witnessed several wedding photo shoots there last weekend, despite bitterly cold temperatures.  The photos below, however, are from last fall.

Wedding cars are decorated in a classy way, like in this photo and the one below.

Although there are many cultural differences and idiosyncrasies between America and Russia, as evidenced by the photo below, love transcends culture.

Next post:  Tatar culture