The days are getting shorter here in Kazan, giving an us an all too obvious reminder of our dwindling time here. We have about four more weeks here, and almost every day I feel torn between a longing to return home to an ‘easier’ (ha!) life and complete heartbreak at the thought of having to leave Kazan. But now is not the time for final reflections; instead, I’ll sum up a few of our recent experiences. Apologies for lapsing into a diary format, which has made it difficult to come up with a catch-all title!
Friday 11th November: The Apocalypse
Despite our distaste for 8:30 lessons, we still try and peel ourselves out of bed to make them on time (even if our grammar teacher only reads the textbook out to us). However, this Friday was unusually chilly and before we even reached the front door, the guard warned us that it was very slippery outside. Taking this warning with our usual indifference to Russian Perils (if we lived by British standards of Health and Safety, we wouldn’t be able to do much at all!), we boldly headed out. The ground was covered in black ice, and Issy slipped over before we had even left the compound. After waiting at the bus stop for half an hour in a haze of frosty rain, with only two extremely full buses arriving, we retreated back to our room to dry off. We later found out that it wasn’t just us being unaccustomed to Russian Winter, but that much of Kazan had ground to a standstill in the wake of the extreme ice. Our teachers and friends both referred to it as ‘the apocalypse’! Luckily, conditions eased up over the day and we made it into town to attend choir; yet, the stress of the day and the suspicion that today was in fact a concert for the choir (which we had definitely not rehearsed enough for) led us…to a bar. A few drinks gave us the courage to slide back over the ice, and catch a bus back home!
Saturday 12th November: Too Much Hospitality
After morning lessons we had been invited to meet an English teacher at a nearby school, who lives next door to our Audio Teacher and who wanted to invite us to host speaking lessons with some Russian pupils. We were taken on a quick tour of the school we sorted out our schedules (N.B. I had previously declined this opportunity for various reasons, but the others have begun a weekly speaking session) and then were whisked away to one of the house of the parent of a pupil…(a tenuous link). Having squeezed six of us into a standard car, we took a perilous drive to his house which was slightly outside of the centre of Kazan. We received a warm welcome from his wife and his daughters, and took a grand tour of their impressive house. Then, of course, we were invited to eat and eat and eat! The food was delicious (although I did have to eat around a lump of chicken in my soup because I was too shy to say I was vegetarian, when they had already done so much to make us comfortable!). We ended up sitting at the table for a few hours, grandparents came and went… the mother and daughter had many stories to recount, but by the evening we were exhausted. They were incredibly kind and generous hosts, but we were glad to get home and all promptly fall asleep. On Sunday, I was still fairly exhausted, so was glad to just hang out with Amir. And considering the importance of ‘courtship’ in Russia and the fact that there is a flower shop on practically every corner, it seemed almost a bit belated when he popped into a shop and came out with a rose – Russia is truly changing my expectations and standards!
Mid-week November: Culture and Colours
I finally managed to grab a photo of the stunning Kamal Theatre which is opposite our lecture block.The roof of the building is slanted and covered in bright blue tiles, and looks incredible in the sunlight; with the snow coming quickly and the weather being unpredictable, I wanted to make sure I had a photo of it before the snow covers its bright colours again.
This was the week when I was finally able to send off some postcards (sorry Mum, sorry Grandma, I can assure you that they’re on their way now!). Between lessons and various last-minute cancellations from our Russian friends (with this point in the term being particularly stressful for them), we managed to explore the Modern Art Museum and attend the concert of our choir. This concert was celebrating the anniversary of the foundation of the University, and it was interesting to hear the University Anthem being belted out, even if we didn’t know the words ourselves..!
Saturday 19th November: A Field Trip!
Having been passed on to a much more organised teacher for our Russian Speaking lessons, we were excited to return to the childhood joy of a field trip. We went to an art gallery dedicated to the works of Konstantin Vasiliev, an artist who was born during the Great Patriotic War (also known as WWII, but known by Russians by this name. It refers to the 1941-1945 period). His early works were very modern, and appealed to my preference for more abstract art. They also included a range of portraits of his favourite composers, whose works he listened to whilst he painted. However, his later works favoured mythological subjects and a more realist style. The lack of photographic evidence is sufficient explanation of my opinion…
The week ended with a cosy visit to the Tsifferblat and a stroll around the city. And it’s good to see that everyone in Kazan is managing to keep warm; even the statues!