Studying Russian in Russia Part 2: Moscow

polyanka

Russian Language Centre 14 December 2003 to 4 January 2004

This appeared to be somebody’s semi-private offshoot of Moscow University–the main Russian teaching establishment there would be the Centre for International Education. Anyway, after a couple of exchanges of emails they agreed to three weeks with some literature over Christmas/New Year.

Probably due to a shortage of alternatives over this period, I ended up staying in the flat of and being landladied by my teacher, Elena Petrovna.

This arrangement wasn’t as frightening as it might have been, but I did spend a lot of time hiding in my room–the flat was near Polyanka metro and also a large Molodaya Gvardiya bookshop, which was convenient.

Anyway, to start with I read some Russian poems aloud and Elena Petrovna corrected my reading. And after that I read various poems, extracts and short works chosen by EP and we discussed them or I wrote an essay on them or both.

On one occasion I wrote a composition on Пушкин и Цветаева, as being easier than the alternative of ‘Poetic form in England and Russia at the beginning of the 2oth Century’.

If there were themes to EP’s choices, they seemed to be Moscow v St Petersburg and Russian emigre literature. I suggested that Nabokov had adjusted better to exile than Bunin and she disagreed.

She felt there were no Russian poets after Pasternak and proved to be about as competent as me at domestic management–at one stage, I had to replace a missing pane in the secondary glazing with a Daily Telegraph and a shopping bag.

And I met with an attempted scam on the street–the one where dude A drops a packet of money in front of you, dude B picks it up and offers to split it with you–I’m not that stupid…I heard a programme on Эхо Москвы where someone very sensibly said that the Communist Party should grow up, forget all the National-Orthodox shit, and start with some basic Marxist principles: atheism and internationalism.

EP and I had some discussion about whether the Christian imagery and indeed content in Pasternak is just decoration or are we meant to take it seriously, but I’ve forgotten the answer. And we had an interesting discussion about whether reading foreign poetry is the mark of a Pincher-Martin-like rapist and murderer, substituting fragments of his solipsistic reveries for the living world.

At the end, we both agreed that Sorokin’s 30-ая любовь Марины was truly dreadful.

What I have learned from these experiences

You need to be very careful on the street–if you feel at all uneasy, get off it into a cafe or the like where you’ll be under the protection of the management.

There always seems to be some dispute with the school or landlady/host family about money–keep calm and have your documentation about you.  The same advice holds true for contacts with immigration authorities and other…organs.

It’s a very good idea to write down explicitly beforehand what you’re trying to achieve–you can even give this to the teacher if you’re feeling truly daring…

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