Sunday, February 26, 2012

Saint Petersburg - Send in the Clowns

Posters for the Clown Troupe!
 The first of my cultural events in Saint Petersburg was Chekov's "Three Sisters".

What an adventure (which my mom summarized on the other family here and here if you want to read about that experience).

But again, the most fabulous Alex and Evgeni suggested that we might want to experience a broad range of cultural events, so they helped us get tickets for an evening with clowns.

And not just ANY clowns! This was an evening of the most loved sketches by Licedie (which is how I think the Russian term for it is written?)... this is the comedy group which includes Slava Polunin et al, famous for such events as Slava's Snow Show.  For those of you who have seen Cirque de Soleil's "Allegria" show, you will recognize him as the clown who did the sketch where he is dancing with a coat, and then walking through a manufactured snow storm.

Licedie's club for training clowns
While waiting for the show to start, we slipped into the night club area, where we watched 'baby comedians and clowns' (students in the comedy school) working on their routines, getting feedback from their teachers. That was fun!

And then, off to the show! It was all in a combination of Russian and 'clown language', which is to say 'pantomime and bodily humour'.

playing ball with the audience

You just didn't really need to speak anything but the tongue of pleasure and entertainment.

There was an absolutely hysterical sketch involving a bit of a play on Swan Lake (where the 'ballerina/clown' ended up losing all her feathers... and other body parts!)

Such a great contrast....Chekov and Clowns!


The grand finale

Saint Petersburg - Walking in Neva Neva land

Hermitage as seen from the Neva River

 Well.... I did feel a bit like Wendy, following PeterPan off to a magical land....the magical land being Saint Petersburg, and the river in question being the Neva river. 

The frozen Neva River

I am told that in the summer months, you can take a boat tour down the Neva River, and that the Hermitage (and other buildings) seem to emerge directly out of the water.

 But I was there in the middle of winter, and the temperatures were in the -15 to -20 celcius range.


the 'boat' is a fitness club
  And thus it was that Alex and Evgeni, the most fantastic of guides to the city, led us not just over the bridge from one side of the river to the other, but then over the river itself to get to the island in the middle.

When I asked about the boat that seemed to be frozen in the ice, they informed us that it was actually a health club.  Pretty swishy!

Rebecca walking on water...

I will confess that I felt a bit nervous climbing down onto the icy river itself, wondering if we would be plunging through to the water below, but... it was at least -15 celcius, and there were many others walking across the ice.

I think the risk was probably less that you would fall through, than that you would slip and break a bone! I felt like quite the northern adventurer!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lunch time in Saint Petersburg

art on the walls outside
 Thursday and Friday, in between our talks at the centre, we strolled over to "The Floors" for lunch.

It was one of the groovier sites I have seen in a while.

It is an old bread factory. Part of it still is a factory, and part is an 'art space' and a loft style.

You have to enter, indicate you are going to the restaurant or gallery, and not the factory, then cut through a yard to the other side. 

The space between "1" and "2"
The restaurant is on the 4th floor. 

To get there, you must take the stairs.... which give you a running tally up the side (ie. 1.2, 1.4, 1.6 .... as you go up the risers)

Up at the top, is restaurant.  It is quite open, and is full of 'art pieces'.  

The first day i tried the Lagman (a kind of chinese noodle soup), and a desert called "Bird Milk". 

I also had a bite of a roll (fresh from the factory below). 
 I have to say, it was just as good as the ones my mom makes!

So...for lunch on our second day, we returned to the scene of my happiness, and I went for salad (carrots and cabbage), Borscht, and THREE rolls hot from the oven.  Delicious!

The view from the roof of 'the floors'

We  stopped in at the art gallery to check out the show. 

Cubist art?
It was a bunch of 'cubist' art...large lego influenced shapes, like walking men carrying rubic cubes, or icons from video games. 

I also loved their Tetris influenced video game screen... it kept sending down shapes that were impossible to fit together (which i should know, from all those wasted college years playing the game instead of reading the assigned passages of James Joyce's "Ullyses" for my "Irish Literary Revival" class) 

Tetris with a twist

Checking out Chekov

Day 3 in Saint Petersburg

After I gave my talk on Deadwood, we raced off to the Maly Theatre to see The Three Sisters by Chekov. 

Full House at the Theatre

They had English subtitles projected on a blackboard above the screen, just like they now do with Live at the Met! 

Talk about heaven! 

I got to watch Chekov in Russian, in Russia, with English subtitles, and then have Russian friends share a meal with us and discuss the play (in English) after it was over. 

The lobby of the Maly Theatre

I don't think I have the words to describe the experience. 

I had not seen the play loved it! 

It was also fun hanging out in the lobby with our Russian friend, who is trained as a director. 

Marie-Claire and Rebecca happy with Chekhov

He could tell us about the different actors, and about the display in the lobby of set designs from other shows (including their staging of Lord of the Flies... you can see one of the costumes from that hanging behind the chandelier)

Chekov was not in the LEAST depressing!  

Rebecca Kelvinovna 


Thursday, February 16, 2012

First day in Saint Petersburg

Marie-Claire and I arrived in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday.  We are here to do 4 talks for the Center for Independent Social Research. The flight from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg was barely an hour long.  Had I known, i would have taken the train instead!  maybe next time.

After so many years of imagining Russia, it has been such an adventure to actually set my feet there. 

The differences were apparent in the airport itself (at least when it came to the challenge of getting money). 

Don't get me wrong: I had no problem FINDING a bank machine.  The challenge was deciphering the words given my clear inadquacies with the Russian alphabet!

The amazing part was that i managed to overcome those inadequacies, and end up with a fistfull of rubles!

Elena and Alex (who are with the Centre) met us at the airport, and drove us into town.  Sweet of them!

Dostoyevsky's Cathedral by day...

I love our hotel... it is located at an intersection with 5 corners. 

The intersection is referred to (of course) as "Best Corner", which makes it only logical that we are staying that the "Best Corner Hotel".

An a fabulous place it is:  just minutes from the Dostoyevsky statue, the St. Nikolas Cathedral (where Dostoyevsky worshipped), and the house where Dostoyevsky wrote "The Brothers Karamazov".

the cathedral by night...
Further, it is apparently a short walk to the Hermitage (where i hope to spend a day or two wandering the halls, looking at art). 

Outside the Best Corner Hotel

But we can find 'art' even closer.  Consider this bit of street art on the wall just outside our hotel.

I am not sure actually how to answer the question posed. 

I mean, i do 'know' who Bansky is (ie "Exit Through the Giftshop"), but i don't know him (her?) personally... nor am I sure if the question is really a request for information, or something else.

Nor am I sure if this stencil actually "IS" a Bansky, or just an other answering piece of street art (which means 'in the spirit of Bansky?')

 Either way, it is one piece of signage in this city that I can actually understand, which makes it something of a treat for me!  ;-)

At the Kiasma Museum in Helsinki

Kiasma in Helsinki
Friday night, we (my friend and co-researcher Marie-Claire) headed off on the first day of our 11 day "Northern Tour": 5 days in Helsinki, followed by 6 days in Saint Petersberg. Of course, we chose the week that everyone agrees is "an unusually cold week". hahaha

Well.... when it is an unusually cold day, there is little better than spending it indoors! Which is exactly what we did. We bundled up in scarves, and headed off to the Kiasma, the Musueum of Modern Art. It is a pretty stunning building on its own. You can check out the architect's webpage here:

The space is amazingly open textured on the inside.  The first ramp that takes you up into the museum reminded me a bit of the National Gallery in Ottawa.

At the bottom of the ramp is a piece of white marble (or some other stone), with a sign inviting you to press your hand on the stone.... and telling you that over time, the stone will be rubbed away to hold the shape of the many hands that have pressed against it.   I like that thought!

the beginnings of the handprint

'pressing the flesh' (against the stone)

The exhibit currently showing was called "Thank you for the music", and it was pretty much a set of 'art works' linked to popular music.   It was a riot to wander around something so linked to my own childhood/teen years:  room after room of artifacts (ie. records), art works, music videos, etc.

Guitar reproductions

I loved this one cabinet full of reproductions of guitars of the kind used by the band "Kiss". 

They were each small (maybe a couple of inches big),  cut out of cardboard, and then coloured. 

 Not 'serious', but too much fun!

guitar closeup
...and what lies below the surface?
There was a fun series of album covers that had been 'altered':  piece of the cover had been altered to reveal other details below the surface.   I don't know how much of the detail you see in this example, but... The pants of the three amigos have been cut out, so you can to below, where they all appear to be wearing lacy underwear.  Like I said... not 'deep', but still very fun!

Objects from a musicians life (in clay)

Or, for example, this display of objects from a jam session (including milk boxes, cables, microphones, emptry beer bottles).  It is all 'life size', but made of clay.   Now i have more ideas for things to make next summer at the lake!  :-)

Adel Abidin "Jihad"
 There were quite a few interesting and edgy videos running.  This one had a guy start off reading some lines from the Koran, and then sing every verse of the folk classic "This Land is My Land". 

So much fun watching it and thinking about the ways that the mixture of image and song raised a billion questions (and assumptions and stereotypes)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Churches in Helsinki

So, in one morning of active walking, Marie-Claire and I managed to wander our way past three of Helsinki's churches. It was totally fun seeing three such different buildings.

1.  The Helsinki Cathedral.  It is a study in symmetry, and balance.  the day we were there, i was also struck by the symmetry in colour... the white of the snow, and of the building, and of the sky... they were all of a piece.   I also loved the snowplow moving back and forth across the square.  What is NOT so visible in the photo are the stairs in front of the cathedral:  they run the entire distance from left to right.  they only bothered to shovel a small section on the two ends of the square (no surprise there... i can't imagine having that job!)

The inside of the cathedral was also interesting... very simple.  Nothing ornate, nothing with frilly design:  amazing clean lines, and a sense of solidity.  They had a beautiful organ inside, and I wish i were staying other day so I could go listen to the free organ recital on Wednesday afternoon!

The cathedral is on one side of the central public square in Helsinki.  When it was designed, you had the cathdral on one side, the city hall on the right, the university on the left, and the market on the opposite side.  That just about captures everything, eh?  :-)  Here is panorama shot of the square (from the web)

2.  Mere blocks away ins the Uspenski Russian Orthodox church

It is supposed to be the largest orthodox church in Western Europe... a reminant of the russians in finland.  It was built in 1868 (of recycled bricks?) 

We wandered around it from all sides, trying to get inside, but were unsuccessful.  Tonight, I was reading (on wikipedia, source of all knowledge) that it is closed on Mondays.  That explains everything!  :-) 

Lucky for us, even from the outside, it was gorgeous!

3.  Last, we saw the Tuomiokirkko Lutheran Cathedral (the Rock Church).  

This one is new (1969).  It is also totally unbelievable.  I would have walked by without noticing, had i not been looking for it.  

They built it INTO a rock..  From the outside, you see not much more than an outcropping of rock (like you see all over back in Victoria), with a flat copper roof.  

The inside is something totally different!  Light floods in from above, and you are surrounded by rough stone... you can totally smell 'rock'... and the rock is rough-hewn, and veined with colour.  The acoustics are also stunning... they were playing music all the time we were inside.  Quite the experience.  I would love to be there when the pipe organ is in action!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors...

"Good fences make good neighbors", or so Robert Frost has a man say in his poem "Mending Wall".  

I can't see a fence without thinking of that poem, and of the many times i got to either perform it, or listen to others perform it, all those years of doing Speech Arts in the Kiwanis Speech and Music Festival!  :-)

The lines of the poem were echoing in my mind tonight: 
"Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast."
Tonight, after a good 20 minutes snowball fight on the street in front of our house, Duncan and I put our love of walls to the test, and tried to build one! 

We used old icecream buckets in an attempt to make our own snowbricks, and build a continuation fo the wall beside us. 

We gave up after three lines of bricks.  ... fatigue... that is the other thing that doesn't love a wall, and that stopped us from completing it!  :-)

 Good fences may make good neighbors... but this one is not exactly a good fence. 

Indeed, we are not sure if the fence will survive until noon tomorrow.  Nonetheless, , but... we will see! 

At least we have the photos!  We will love the snow while it lasts! 

Net Ball Extravaganza

running lines to warm up

I don't really know much about netball, though Duncan belonged to the netball afterschool club last term.

Last week we had a friendly match between Queenswell and St. John's School.  Duncan hasn't played since before Christmas, but still.... what the heck!  So... with Arta visiting, we decided to tag along for the game, to watch and learn.

First thing I learned is that it is a bit like basketball, but without the dribbling.  The kids have to pass the ball down the court.  An adventure.

The second thing i learned is that it is played outside.  If Arta and I had known that piece of information, we would have dressed more warmly.   We had been anticipating a nice heated gymnasium.  oops. 

First, it was time for 'warmup', as the kids had to run lines across the court. 
Altering a waistband with a hair scrunchy

And warm up was needed, since it was absolutely freezing outside.  Literally!   It had to be at least a couple of degrees below zero.  

The teachers made sure that all the kids had sweatpants overtop of their shorts, just for an extra layer of warmth. 

For kids who were a bit too small for the school's extra sweatpants, there were instant alterations (like inventing a snug waistband with the use of a hairband)

strategizing in a huddle!

There was a bench on the opposite side of the play far away to follow the action.  Stalwarts that we are, we moved the bench closer, and borrowed Duncan's coat to use as a blanket.  Perhaps it would have been better for him to use it himself, but.... we were cold spectators!

They shoot!   They score!
 We were also entertained spectators! 

There were lots of other parents, and grandparents and siblings there to watch, cheering from the sides.  It was great fun watching the kids, strategize, and play! 

St. John's won in the end, but we later found out that they also won the district championship last year!  So, we we so lucky to have the chance to practice our skills with such great competition (and it made us feel not so bad that we lost to the very best team... and indeed made us feel even better about the 2 baskets our team scored, and the many baskets we kept them from scoring). 

Everyone was also happy to snack on the juice and biscuits that they provided at the end!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why are the ordinary days so exhausting?

Does anyone know the answer to that question?  The days seem to pass faster than I can process them, and that is WITHOUT trying to fit in any fun stuff.

Arta summed it up in her post on "getting nothing done"