Posts Tagged ‘Perm’’

VISIT TO PERM, RUSSIA in SEPTEMBER 2015

January 20, 2015

Karen Hewitt writes:

The Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre [of St Antony’s College, Oxford] together with the University’s Department for Continuing Education is arranging for a group of eight people to visit Perm as guests of the Perm State University. They will live in families with at least one English speaker and will have many opportunities to observe real Russian life. The visit is part of an exchange scheme in which the payment made by you supports the visit of a Perm teacher to Oxford.

 The visit is open to anyone but we give preference to people in Oxfordshire or with an Oxford connection such as attendance at OUDCE summer schools. The programme of the fortnight can vary according to individual interests. As guests of Perm University you will be asked to talk to University students, while your activities can include: visits around the city, and to the Urals countryside; canoeing along the Silva river; professional and specialist contacts with economists, lawyers, local politicians, (and lectures if you are willing and able); visits to art galleries, concerts, ballet; studying the work of the city council and local voluntary groups; taking part in family life with your hosts and their friends. Previous visitors on this scheme have seized all sorts of opportunities to see how Russian society works. Several have returned for a second visit.

 A knowledge of Russian is not necessary since interpreters will be provided, but obviously you will learn more if you know a little Russian. Participants should be physically fit and willing to walk reasonable distances. Many of our hosts do not have cars, and walking, climbing flights of stairs and public transport are normal. And you should be adaptable…

DATES: Saturday 5th September to Sunday 20th September 2015 (Fifteen nights) The journey is by British Airways scheduled flight to Moscow. You will travel from Moscow to Perm by train – about 900 miles and the first day of the Trans-Siberian route. You will have a few hours in Moscow on the return journey.

 COST: £990 This includes air fares, train fares, other travel in Russia, accommodation with a family, breakfast and many other meals, a programme of activities including two visits to the opera or ballet, and two full day tours. It does not include visas, insurance, and some meals. We will arrange your visas and inform you in June of the cost. Currently official visas are £50 plus admin and special delivery postage – in total about £80. Commercial visas are less hassle and about twice as much. All this will be explained.

 NOTE: The group will be limited to seven or eight people, so if you are interested, PLEASE FILL IN THE FORM OVERLEAF AND SEND IT TO PROMPTLY to Karen Hewitt (address overleaf), For specific enquiries, please ring 01865 515635. For more general information there will be a meeting in late June or early July for those going to Perm in which useful details of all kinds will be passed on.

Group Form

Experiences in 2012

The world as seen from Perm, Part II

November 9, 2014

permmap

A year after the first one, we have come across another remarkable Permian map showing its present twin cities of Louisville, Oxford, Duisburg, Amneville, Agrigento and Qingdao.  (You can enjoy the original here.)

Detail

Detail

Well,  Oxford is on the right island…

Perm State University Language and Culture Winter School

December 13, 2013
Perm State University snow scene

Perm State University snow scene

Karen Hewitt kindly sent me details of a proposed Perm Winter School to comment on.  I am in almost complete agreement with her comments below, and I would add:

i) they need to decide whether they’re aiming at real or recreational students. Looks like the latter at present, but whatever the answer is they need to be a lot more specific about course content/aims/methodology/etc

ii) it’s stupid to assemble people at the University and then take them off somewhere else for the ‘real business’. Give them lectures (if necessary through an interpreter) on the Permian Era and Extinction/Mikhail Fridman (was at PSU, pioneer of General Relativity)/those wooden statues/the armaments industry then and now/their experiences in Afghanistan/etc/–or just the time-honoured ‘Round Table’ with students (and/or staff). Or have a lecture course on something like Modern Russian Society…

iii) similarly to the above, I think something called a Winter School should have some superstructure of lectures, competitions, quizzes, tests, reading lists–not just classes and excursions

iv) they don’t say anything about tests or formal academic credits

v) you also need a ‘find your level’ guide–and something about how people will be assigned to groups

vi) I think the selling point has to be something like ‘Real Russia with Real Russians’, where your horses can gallop for 3 weeks in any direction without reaching another town, never mind country. All this stuff about Zhivago and bear statues is a bit embarrassing in my opinion

vii) they should say a bit more about the homestays–who the host families will be & what to expect

viii) while I’m dead keen on Aims, I don’t understand the ones given here and I don’t think I’d agree with them if I did

ix) they don’t say that they’re going to supply visa support/invitations–I presume they are

x) they need to say what the weather/temperature/hours of daylight are going to be (and that it will be nice and warm indoors).

Well, I have lots of thoughts, but you may have different ones that may be better advice. So I am attaching this draft, and if you have ANY comments, do let me know. Don’t worry about the mistakes in English and unidiomatic English. I can sort that out.

My comments would be – Remove the photo of the huge modern cathedral in Moscow and the lamppost non-Perm one. Put attractive photos of Perm streets/buildings in their place. AGREE

Better, in general, to do the lessons in the morning and the excursions after lunch. It won’t be too dark because Perm is such a long way west of sun-time. And you can think better in the morning. AGREE

You need some information about levels of Russian and teaching methods. And presumably there ought to be some time for homework and study. AGREE. Also class sizes, how they are made to be of ‘similar’ standard, what happens if there’s no-one else at your kind of level, who the teachers are. 30 contact hours (are these 60- or 45-minute hours?) is not much of a payload for a trip of two weeks.

I wouldn’t begin on Monday with the Perm University museum or botanical garden. Both are worth seeing, but neither is SPECIALLY striking in comparison with what we can do in Britain. Better to get a sense of the city and what will seem exotic to visitors. AGREE.

I think there should be a maximum of 2 day trips. Participants will spend a long time in the coach looking at white and black scenes. AGREE. Day trips are an easy way of getting a visiting group off your hands, but they need to engage with the local population if they’re going to learn anything.

I’ve been to all the places, and would rate the Museum of Political Repressions high on the list, for its intrinsic historical interest and because there is a good road with fine scenery. AGREE.

They are planning lots of theatre trips and cultural entertainments. But perhaps spending some evenings with ‘ordinary Russians’ would also be much appreciated. Or taking their hosts out to dinner. Or a barbecue in the snow…. PARTLY AGREE. Best if they can go to the theatre etc with ‘ordinary’ (even English-speaking) Russians and share the experience with them.

I think the price is OK. AGREE.

Remember that this visit will take place when snow lies thickly on the ground – so the participants won’t be able to see some of the things you saw – but they will be able to ski cross-country, for example.

The world seen from Perm

November 28, 2013

permap

This map comes from a brochure that I got from the Mayor of Perm after I’d had a grilling from him (on the general subject of public finances) in the upstairs room of a pub while his teenage daughter looked on and died of boredom.  He was worried about being overshadowed by Ekaterinburg and felt that Perm’s main problem was its physical layout in being so drawn-out while E-burg was much more concentrated.

The map has its points of interest. Perm certainly isn’t that shape and then they’ve managed to put themselves at the edge of their own map, but not near enough the edge to eliminate E-burg.  There’s something endearingly half-hearted about that.  Maybe they were trying to show their twin cities, but they left out Qingdao, the Chinese one, and in fact the Mayor was just about to follow Boris Johnson’s example by flying out there in search of some money.

Anyway, I really enjoyed my meeting with the Mayor!  To start off with, I rang his hotel and they said they had no such guest.  Then we kind-of established contact via his Russian mobile and the connection kept dropping.  Finally, when we were trying to meet in Oxford Street, his mobile broke completely…It was just like being back in Perm, especially with the unpleasant weather and 98% of Oxford St shoppers being foreign.

Why are clothes so expensive in Russia?

November 17, 2013

mangocoat

Taking Perm as an example–and why not–it says here that while most things in Perm are 1/2 or 1/3 of the price in London, clothes cost the same–I’d say that if you take into account choice and quality things are a lot worse  than that for the Permians.

My guess is that the basis of the fashion trade in the UK is that the big retailers get stuff very cheap (but decent quality–a lot better than the Chinese stuff you get in Russia) from Bangladesh and China and then sell it in rather large shops that provide a decent shopping experience–mirrors, fitting rooms, toilets…

So would this work in Russia?  If you can buy stuff at Bangladeshi or Chinese prices and sell it at London prices while paying Russian rent and wages you should be able to make some money.

I tried to think of what the problems might be specifically for clothing.  For instance: you can’t get your stock from China to Perm the cheapest way (by boat), but that applies to anything else imported from China, so doesn’t really count.

I thought of the following:

1.  Clothes are relatively easy for the staff and customers to steal (but this is soluble)

2.  You wouldn’t get as cheap a wholesale price as the big UK retailers (but still cheap enough)

3.  If there hasn’t been a proper fashion business in Russia then you won’t get a decent buyer.   But if nobody else has one that’s not so serious.

4.  I don’t think the shop units you get in Russia are generally anything like big enough.  I’m sure there are enough disused warehouses and factories in Perm, but you’d have to spend some money on fitting one out.

5.  My best answer is that the special thing about fashion is that you need clothes in a vast range of sizes, patterns, styles, colours [etc].  As a retailer you can’t afford to carry all that stock yourself so you need a network of wholesalers and middlemen to do it for you.  Which may not exist in Russia.  But it I think it will in China or Bangladesh and so on…

6.  I thought that there might be a steep tariff on imported clothes in Russia, but I looked it up and it’s pretty much the same as the UK.

I then found a Russian-produced answer to my question that you can also view through Google Translate here.

Basically it’s the same as my initial thoughts except:

1)  they ignore the fancy stuff about choice, buyers etc

2)  they refer to shortage/high price of shop space generally

3)  they point out the real problem with the tariff is what the Customs officer will actually charge you

4)  they say that [the same as with housing in the UK] people expect to pay stupid prices.

Of these, (2) & (3) are probably true but they would apply to all imported goods in shops and generally they’re not that dear in Russia.  You do need more floorspace to flog clothes than some other things, but wherever you are you need to put some effort in to turning over the stock so that you cover your overheads.

So we might say that unrealistic expectations are more a part of fashion than some other businesses, and that could be ‘the’ answer.

But then I got some expert economic advice:

Can’t say I’m convinced by the expectation argument.  People are not perfectly rational, but they’re not stupid.  With few exceptions (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giffen_good ) offer people better quality at lower prices and they will buy.  The cost and supply side constraints sound a much more believable explanation.

Thinking about this, if it was a case of expectations there should probably be a differential effect in different market sectors, which would be easy enough to check for.  Offhand I think the answer is No.

Otherwise the explanation has to show why clothes are different from other imported goods.

1)  The UK price of clothes is too low relative to other goods
–some evidence here, for instance M&S cross-subsidy and people seem to come here from abroad to buy clothes more than other things

2)  UK has high tariffs on non-clothes imports compared with Russia
–hard to believe since UK policy is generally non-protectionist and EU tends to play by the WTO/GATT rules

3)  Something about costs of variety
–not too convinced:  there are lots of diverse clothing factories in China

So my current answer would be the combination of a)  weakness in retailing (indolence, incompetence and shortage of suitable premises means they don’t shift enough stuff per square metre) and b)  difficulties in importation (in particular, uncertainty in knowing what the Customs officer is going to demand and how long he’s going to hang on to your container–the official tariff is perfectly reasonable).

Now under a) they manage perfectly reasonable supermarkets and rather nice chain restaurants at the Pizza Express-ish level and with sensible prices in both cases [but enough of the stuff is domestically sourced to make this not so difficult], while under b) the prices for say cars and computers are…tolerable (maybe 2/3 of the price here), but there’s not the same need to shift the stuff quickly I think.

One problem with this explanation is that if you don’t believe in expectation based on UK/’Western’ prices, then a different set of factors is managing to reproduce them with surprising accuracy.

Then you could ask whether all this means that home dressmaking is more popular in Russia.

A Russian Fairytale (with Q&A), Riverside Studios 31 January

February 1, 2013

***

fairytale

Denis, Irina, Ksusha

The film followed the lives of a group of homeless young people in the city of Perm, beginning in Winter and ending in Summer, though it was difficult to see exactly what period it was since footage from different visits had been edited together.  They sniffed glue, they injected drugs, the girls turned tricks at 500R a time, Denis begged in the market…They also laughed and joked and hung out, while Kolya got to visit his family’s dacha, have lunch in the sunshine and swim in a lake.,

My own feeling was that if it had been done more competently it would have been unbearably moving, and even as it was there were many opportunities for tears.  My heart went out to the young women Irina and Ksusha because you could see what they would have been like–should have been like–in different circumstances.  Scenes like Irina going to see her mother in the hostel where she lived with her present ‘boyfriend’ and the mother shouting at her to go away, or Ksusha’s pregnancy test where she clearly had not the slightest resource if it proved positive–apart from a determination not to have an abortion–will be very difficult to forget.

There was a certain amount of the film telling you what to what to think, both in the titles at the beginning giving some over-simplified background information and in the music.  Also it was another of those situations where I knew a great deal more about the subject-matter (drug use and its effects; children in need; Russia) than the film-makers did, which as ever led to discomfort.  The shocking revelation at the end merely caused me a momentary spasm of fucking drug users.

The film was enthusiastically received by a large and predominantly young audience.  Nicolas Doldinger (co-director) said that they had wanted to make a film that dealt with an ugly situation in a beautiful and engaging way.  In answer to a question about whether the young people had been paid, Jake Mobbs (the other co-director) said that they had brought them bread and mayonnaise and lent them a mobile for emergency calls.  They didn’t actually know what their interviews were about until they took the film home and scraped together some money for translation.  The fact that the only rehab available was run by Evangelicals gave rise to a facile comment about this being merely a different form of addiction.   Jake Mobbs said there were plans to show the film in Perm, though there might be difficulties with the authorities.

So I’m left feeling a helpless horror that there should be such lives, and also that the film should have been better to do them justice.

The charity Love’s Bridge works with street youth and at-risk children in Perm.

Permian Diary: 8-23 September

October 31, 2012

The announcement started off

VISIT TO PERM, RUSSIA in SEPTEMBER 2012

The Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre together with [Oxford] University’s Department for Continuing Education is arranging for a group of eight people to visit Perm as guests of the Perm State University. They will live in families with at least one English speaker and will have many opportunities to observe real Russian life. The visit is part of an exchange scheme in which the payment made by you supports the visit of a Perm teacher to Oxford.

and after a preparatory early-morning briefing meeting in Oxford some weeks beforehand, this is what happened:

Saturday 8 September

Boring photograph of train window

Get up at five am.  Taxi to Heathrow.  Accustomed queue at passport control in Moscow, it seems they now print the migration card out automatically.  Igor, a student from Perm, meets us and asks do we want to get a taxi or the Metro from Paveletsky station to Yaroslavsky.  Unbelievable indecision.  Francis falls over muscling his luggage onto the AeroExpress train.  We descend to a left luggage place then while away the hours at a Sbarro restaurant before waiting in the waiting room.  When we get on the train Igor and I have the bottom bunks in one compartment, the top bunks are empty.  I sleep soundly for a long time.

Sunday 9 September

Irina’s lovely house

I sit on my couchette and stare at the wall opposite (sometimes Igor as well).  When we get off the train at Perm’ people appear to take us away; a youngish man called Aleksei comes for me.  We go and meet a young woman called Irina.  Then we get in a car and set off for what seems to be Irina’s house.  Irina’s mother Aleksandra is worried I won’t know how to use the hot water, but it’s just like my system at home.  I establish myself in a very large and very very nice room…

Monday 10 September

I sleep, and then have rather a lot of breakfast.   Aleksandra gives me the address and Irina’s mobile number, then sets out.  Aleksei appears and takes me on a marshrutka, then a bus to the University.  Irina rings Aleksei to tell him to tell me to ring her when I want to go home.

The University has a checkpoint that the local council doesn’t allow them to use.

Some important people address us under the impression that we come from Oxford or Oxfordshire.  A couple of students of English come to take us round the University Museum and the Botanical Garden.  But it’s raining, so we can only go in the greenhouse.  But we stand in the rain a long time while they try to work out which greenhouse.

A primitive plant typical of the Permian Era

The first thing to see is an exhibition of plants typical of the Permian Era (named after Perm’) and that rather appeals to my sense of humour.  After the greenhouse tour I have to ring Irina which I have no idea how to do from my English mobile, so I borrow one of the guides’ and Irina tells me to try again at 8:30.  Martin, Heather and I go with a guide to a shop nearby to buy local SIM cards; we have to show our passports and have them photocopied.  We walk along ulitsa Lenina and find a pancake place that has WiFi and a nice toilet.

Some time later, I get on a bus and just when I’m wondering where I am Irina gets on as well.  We get off some time later and go to a grocery store then get in a crowded car with some of her friends.  When we get in, we talk about a visit to her school and I ring Heather who is keen in principle but it depends on her Ekaterinburg visit.

Tuesday 11 September

Irina takes me into town by bus and tram.  Our group has a tour round some sights.  I go to the student canteen with Martin and Heather, then decide I can’t face it and wander off into town.  Then I get on a 68 bus and manage to get off at the right stop by asking the person next to me.

I kill time until 1830, when I am due to ring Irina.  I can’t get through.  What to do?  I ask a taxi-driver, who says he’s never heard of the address.  I get on the 16 bus, going the opposite way from what I remember going into town.  I get a phonecall from Irina, who says I should get off at ul. Kolyaevo.  The bus goes through some familiar-looking regions and then comes to the end of the route.  I retrace my path somewhat through mud and then ask a motherly-looking woman who says she has never heard of the place I am living then rings a friend, after which she says I need to cross the road again, get the 16 bus, ask the conductor.  I do that and end up at the terminus again.

I try again and get on a 16 bus to Zaprud.  Then when it gets to a stop called ul. Startseva I decide it is looking too urban and get off.  I try ringing Irina many, many times.  It is getting dark and with the other people at the bus-stop looking threatening it is all getting like Twilight Portrait.  But with a great effort of concentration I manage to work out how to call Irina using my English card.  She says I should get the 16 bus and get off at ul. Kolybalova.  I manage to notice that the 16 bus has automated announcements of the stops.

Atmospheric bus-stop shot (by Martin)

I arrive at the bus-stop and wait.  Irina arrives with her uncle in a car.  We arrive ouside her house.  She asks, Am I angry with her and I say No.  Then the front gate turns out to be locked and she doesn’t have the key.  I say one of us can climb over the fence but she finds another way in.

We have our tea.  She says I should have something definite to say at the visit to her school.  Then we have a tense discussion about how I can find my way home.  Eventually she says she will show me the stop for the number 16 tomorrow.

Wednesday 12 September

We start off down the road so she can show me the bus-stop.  Then Irina has a mysterious conversation on her phone and Sasha appears in her car to take us to 1905 Square so I can get the tram and Irina can go to her school.

I go to the tourist office and get some more maps; then the group manages to assemble in the rain and we traipse round places where Yuri Zhivago and his Lara might have lived and loved if they had been real people.  But they weren’t.

The others go to have some lunch and I decide I need to use the daylight to work out the route home.  The 68 and the 16 take me to the ul. Kolybalova stop and I manage to find my way onto the street.  But I have no idea which of the many lanes leading off to the left I want.  Eventually I manage to get some kind-of-useful directions from a guy with metal teeth delivering beer and then I catch sight of a house with 10 2-ая Кольцевая on a sign.  And then I manage to find my way onto the right track and get into the house.

Enigmatic expanse of road

After a bath and several cups of coffee I set off to go to a meeting of the Perm Rotary Club we have been invited to.  The quasi-Masonic ritual seems a bit grotesque, but the people and what they are doing seem worthwhile.  I help Igor out with some of the interpreting and also respond to some questions addressed to the English side.  Then Aleksandr the ex-navy-officer who entertained us with Vysotsky-style songs gives me a lift home and the other passengers are eager with questions about England.

When I get in, Irina says the father of her friend Olya is interested in applied mathematics and economics; I show him some slides and he is interested in system dynamics, forecasting and data mining.  We agree to meet next Wednesday.  Then Sasha comes round, the girls get into girly mode, and I go to bed.

Thursday 13 September

I am supposed to be leaving early with Sasha to join the day’s trip into the countryside.

The girls drift round without urgency.  Irina asks Do you want any porridge?  I say No.  She makes me some and puts it beside me and looks at me until I eat it.  When we finally set off, Sasha demonstrates Formula 1 overtaking with one hand while turning the radio up with the other and pushing back her hair as well somehow…If we don’t make it in time I will say I never managed to speak to Heather about going to Irina’s school and it won’t be my fault.  But they have waited beyond the agreed time and Heather rather crossly tells me to hurry up.

We arrive somewhere and climb up a slippery steep path to take a picture and then we slip and slide back down again.

The view we clambered for

It begins to rain.  We have lunch in the rain.  After the other 4 have had a go, David and I get in a canoe and set off with an optimistic strike rate.  Our Russians are on the phone to their mates–or just flirting–while Heather and Martin’s is doing the paddling.

Canoeing on the Silva River

We visit the Kungur Ice Caves where I get bored and cold and bang my head many, many times and worry about time getting on and how I am going to get home.

Quite photogenic, these ice caves

It rains.  We spend too much time in a souvenir shop.  Some of us rather hope we might be setting off back now, but instead we have a picnic under an awning in the rain.

Under an awning in the rain

We finally get back to the University and Hatty’s hostess Tanya takes me in her car to find a taxi not near the railway station.  The taxi driver and I manage to find the road.  Then we drive up and down it looking for Irina’s house.  Then I get out and walk up and down looking for Irina’s house.  He charges me more than twice the fair price Irina named.

Irina and I have a very guarded conversation.  Olga says that I am bored and disappointed with Russia.  I say I am certainly not bored or disappointed with the three friends around the kitchen table but I would be better off with a definite aim.  I go to bed.

Friday 14 September

Sasha takes us all into town in her car by way of a visit to the local branch of Эхо Москвы, where she hands in a projector and screen.  Olga asks me my favourite type of music and guesses it must be opera; I admit I am frightened by how well she understands me.   I go to the International Department and find neither Svetlana nor Mariya.  Then I come across Svetlana and a guy who wants to show me round the Maths Department, even though there is no-one there.  Among general confusion, I say I am due to meet Professor Andrianov on Wednesday.

Then Irina and I meet Heather and they hit it off immediately.  After a change of bus we arrive at Irina’s school, where we stand at the front of a class and say a few words about ourselves.  Then we say something about differences between England and Russia and Svetlana the teacher tells us when we get it wrong.  Heather shows her slides about school matters in England and brings out the stuff they need to remember with great proficiency.  We get a fairly random selection of questions; a pretty girl wants to know about getting an English husband and a clever lad asks about highly-paid jobs in London.

Pedagogues, English and Russian

After putting Heather on a bus, Irina and I go to a pancake place and a rather low-grade ‘Indian bazaar’, then she helps me buy a replacement woolly hat.  In the evening I tiredly draft an email to Svetlana saying we really ought to do something with the presentations I have prepared.

Saturday 15 September

Irina says that Sasha will take us all into town in her car.  We hang around in the church shop–they have a nice copy of Лебединая песня and also just for once a Church Slavonic Bible, though it is heavy, bulky and expensive.

It comes round to four o’clock and I hope I am never going to meet Bad Irina.  Then Good Irina comes out of the shop to say that BI is stuck in traffic.  I buy the Bible and then BI finally appears.  It is all very unpleasant.  I agree to give a talk to her first-year students who won’t understand anything as a kind of of performing animal I guess.  She gives further instructions about what to say, when to appear and so on.

I go to meet Aleksei Aleksandrovich and we go to the theatre.  We have a speech from quite a nice-looking woman about how great (and mystical) the forthcoming season will be, and how the owner of a shop called Polaris has donated wallpaper.  The owner of a shop called Polaris stands up and takes a bow.

Termen–really rather dreadful

The show begins and is really rather dreadful.  The actors have been made to speak with comedy foreign accents and the text is painfully undramatic.  A piece supposed to be about modern music requires the most hackneyed Baroque pieces to affect the audience’s emotions.  The audience for its part not only texts but also talks on its mobiles throughout.

At the interval AA is clearly embarrassed at how poor it all is so I suggest we leave.  When I get home, I give Olga a Thomas Tallis CD and she looks nonplussed, but thanks me anyway.  The girls go to the bathhouse in the garden and I go to bed.

Sunday 16 September

Many interesting encounters outside here

I go into town in Olga’s taxi and we pass Irina on her bike.  I sit outside the church shop and Irina arrives on her bike.  I guard the bike while she shops in the church shop.  We sit.  A young man arrives.  They talk together indistinctly.  I make my excuses and leave.

In the evening I give Sasha and Irina some presents.

Monday 17 September

I go to the University by bus and tram, using some scraps of Wi-Fi connection on the way.  I go to see Svetlana, who rings one Larissa and asks her to find me some students.  Then I ask about using the Wi-Fi; she rings one San Sanych and wheedles.  Mariya gives me train tickets and tells me how to go where I’m going.

I am admitted to Larissa Sergeevna’s presence.  She establishes that there is some group whose teacher has gone sick and tells me to come back at 1330.  Following earlier instructions, at 1300 I repair to the International Department where one Olga takes me to the computer centre.  The guy there completely blanks us and says he knows nothing about nothing.  Then he says we can go round the back and see the administrator.  He complains that the International Department have been assigned many log-ins and he has no idea what has happened to them.  But he relents and I am connected to the outside world.

When I return to give my talk we spend some time connecting my computer to the projector and the IT bloke complains lengthily.  One of the students–a group of about 15 young women–is actively interested, and some of the others venture a reaction from time to time.  What they like is wordy slides that they can compare with what I am saying–it seems like the words accountant, hinder and rota are new to them–and recommendations for specific books.  I recommend If This Is A Man (because everyone ought to read it)  The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (because seeing things through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know what’s going on will help them to understand English life, even if they read it in Russian, and in that case they can pass it on to their geeky brothers or boyfriends) and The Night Watch (so that they get some value from all the Shakespeare they’ve done).

I decline Larissa’s kind offer to talk to a group of students of French at three o’clock, and wander round town.  Konstantin keeps on ringing me at inopportune moments with further and contradictory demands, so I never manage to eat and have difficulties shopping as well.

People did get a bit confused around this stage

Then I rush to the Theatre Theatre which is miles away and arrive a bit late, but so are they so that’s all right.  I find myself liking the Scarlet Sails musical and I might have cried with a better final duet.  I also manage to more-or-less explain the story to the others.

I spend a long time waiting to get my things back at the cloakroom, and then at the second bus-stop of my journey home.

Tuesday 18 September

We get on the bus and go to the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.  I remember when this was the last camp for political prisoners at the end of the Soviet period, and the guide says that the KGB failed to destroy it completely–because part of it was used as a real psychiatric hospital maybe–so they were able to restore it.

Display of prisoners’ implements

Barracks

‘Experienced prisoners said it was one of the most beautiful of the Gulags…’

I approve of the modest and low-key nature of the place, a welcome change from Volgograd for example.

We  return to the Uni and gather in the canteen.  We talk about lapses in organisation and how the return journey will go.  As we start off on our various ways home, Martin remarks that there is nothing to say for their flat except it’s easy to find.  I suggest they come round to Irina’s lovely house on Friday evening.  When I get home I borrow Irina’s dongle and find some worried emails from base telling me not to give anything away while pursuing professional contacts.

I give Irina some presents from Heather and she likes that.  I tell her Martin and Heather might be coming round on Friday and she is very pleased.  So it ends up with Irina speaking to Heather on my phone and an arrangement for Martin and Heather to come round for traditional afternoon tea on  Friday.

Wednesday 19 September

We wait outside the Art Gallery for a student to come and take us to the Regional Museum.  We wait some more.  Heather suggests going into the Art Gallery to ask if they can ring the Regional Museum and find out if our student is there.  So she tries that and I accompany.  Then the student appears and we set off.  She’s running late, that’s all there is to it.

So we go to the Regional Museum, which is low-key but interesting enough.  Then I return to sit outside the Art Gallery.  I send Konstantin a text to say I am free.  I sit for half an hour and get cold.  Maybe I can go home?

I get a call from Professor Andrianov, who then appears very quickly and we apologise to each other.  He commissions various treatments for my sore throat by mobile phone.  He says it is a pity I am stuck in the outskirts and they can arrange for me to stay in a hotel instead.  I say that I am fine with Irina and we have visits with neighbours planned for the rest of our time.

When we arrive, Prognoz turns out to occupy one or more former arms factories.  He takes me to a very large boardroom and plies me with liquids.  He says that they support the Orthodox Church and the Jewish community and have had a visit from the Israeli Ambassador.

Then he leads me to a frighteningly futuristic boardroom–this time it’s The Target that is referenced–where the young guns display whizzy products.  I ask questions about how they actually support decisions, what they do about data quality, and what exactly their offering is.  This is all in Russian.  Then the top guys interrogate me about where an automated system such as theirs might be used.  I suggest–using the example of road maintenance–that it might be local councils or the Highways Agency.

Then there is a break while students file in.  I am to give a talk completely different from what I was told.  I am to talk about my work in general terms, first of all in English (for the international students) and then summarising in Russian.  Saying the same thing would be too easy!  So I do that.  I tell them to understand the real problem and the real data.  At the end, someone asks about the Olympics.

International students imitate wakefulness while the Russian ones discuss yesterday’s TV

After that I am put in a car and taken to the University.  I tell my pals that it was about the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life…

We get in a minibus and go to a Palace of Culture in some farflung remoteness. The Panfilov Ballet starts with music that is far too loud, and at the beginning it’s about the level you might expect at such a venue.  At the interval some of our lot are distinctly unhappy and refuse to re-enter the auditorium.  The second half is a lot better; I start off by thinking that some of the numbers with the fat people are at the level of a normal show at Sadlers Wells, while at the end with Люби друг друга it is like a very good show there.

When I get in Irina serves me some dinner and asks me about my day, especially the meeting with Olga’s father.

Thursday 20 September

When I wake up I have a nasty sore throat and no voice.  I text Bad Irina to say I will not be able to give a talk for her.   Aleksandra (who has reappeared) makes me an infusion of Ural herbs that I am supposed to gargle.

I finally set off for the day’s excursions and as you do in these circumstances miss the bus and tram.  I am making reasonable progress when an accident means the tram is sent round all kind of remote parts and finally ends up at the University.

So after coming home and admitting my delinquency to Aleksandra I set off again and arrive quite early at the opera house.  There is no atmosphere.  The performance is appalling.  I sleep through most of the first half and then escape.

Job advert at the tram stop–I suspect this involves ‘topless’ if not ‘intim’

I have a long wait for the tram, then get a 38 to fairly near home.  Aleksandra kindly produces some dinner for me and Irina is nowhere to be seen.

Friday 21 September

I go into town starting with the 38 bus and we assemble and set off for Khokhlovka.  We have a very clued-up guide called Stanislav and start off with a typical izba from the Perm region.  I am interested to see many things I have only been able to imagine from literary sources.

Communal bowl and ostentatious salt cellar

Next there is a church with some rare features.

Church of the Transfiguration

Stanislav says it’s called a ship church because everything is in one line.  He also says he is an atheist and asks us to greet Richard Dawkins for him.  The whole place seems to reflect an entirely sensible way of making a living in the local circumstances, as opposed to Perm-36 which is a pathological way of doing this.

We have some involved discussion about what various things are called:  the balcony on the watchtower where you pull up the boards and pour boiling oil on assailants for instance.

Watchtower (picture by Martin)

For the moment, we have no idea about what to call boxes to hide things from bears, though later on the word cache seems to be the right one.

Cache for pelts (picture by Martin)

And here’s a nice picture of a windmill:

Windmill, to state the obvious

Anyway.  We get back to the University and Tanya rings to get us a taxi.  Nothing happens.  We watch students come and go.  Tanya tells us about the how greedy and dishonest Russian taxi drivers are.  The first firm are still trying to find a car.  She cancels them and tries another.  Olga comes by and says she will be along in an hour.  Tanya says she has won an award to do some work on idioms in Vanity Fair.  The taxi finally arrives and we set off hazardously.

At Irina’s: Aleksandra, Vladimir, Martin (hidden), Irina, Sasha, me, Heather

Irina and her father are sitting outside in the sunshine.  He introduces himself as Vladimir.  Slightly chaotic conversation starts off.  From time to time Vladimir takes Martin or me outside for some serious man talk and so that he can have a smoke.  He shows me some medals and gives me a Spetsnaz combat jacket.  In fact, he presents Martin and me with some military insignia as well.

We finally set off for the bus stop.  Irina leads us through some back ways and Martin takes pictures of houses.  On the way back, Irina says she is now very keen to visit England.  I say she is welcome to stay with me, but she needs to make sure her parents are happy with the idea and it will be a good idea to bring a friend.

Saturday 22 September

Sasha appears and hangs around a bit before Olga wakes up and gets herself together.  We drive to the station and I find our lot assembled on the platform.  When the train arrives, I am in a compartment with a toddler and his carers.  They aren’t keen on him being disturbed.  So I spend the day sitting in other group members’ compartments or going to the restaurant car with them.  The restaurant car steadily runs out of everything.  In the corridor, David tells me some interesting things about the history of the Russian language, which he has studied in Sweden.  In  Swedish.

I sleep pretty well, apart from when the toddler goes on the rampage very early in the morning.
Sunday 23 September

Vera has been ill in the night.  The taxi discussion continues and we decide Vera and Francis will go in one and Helen and Hatty in another–I will arrange.

At the station I submit to a tout wearing what might be an official badge.  Then I have to run after Vera and Francis to say it is 500R each.  The rest of us go on the Metro, which involves trailing along corridors and up and down steps.

Happy people at airport

After the normal Sunday transport problems in London, I arrive home late, wet and disoriented.

Afterwards

If anyone is interested in having a go themselves, this is an annual event and you can see the full announcement for 2013  here.

Two weeks for ~ £ 1,000 is very good VFM though I think you need some specific interest in Russia to find it all worthwhile.

ANNEX 1:  MY SUGGESTIONS

At the end, I made the following suggestions to Karen Hewitt, the organiser:

Here are a few specific points which you may find it useful to consider.  They are meant to be things that participants and organisers on the English side could do, rather than imposing more burdens on the Russians.  These are essentially my points, but I’ve circulated them round the group and taken out or toned down those that people disagreed with.

1.  Aim and scope

I found it was difficult to explain what we were up to, possibly because I wasn’t so sure myself.  The explanation that ‘This is really meant to subsidise English teachers from Perm going to Oxford, but we also hope to be of some use while we’re here’ didn’t seem to help.  People also seemed to be expecting a fully-fledged academic exchange with people from Oxford University.  (As an aside, apart from this confusion, I don’t think the Permians we met had much interest in Oxford, while they certainly did in England generally and in London.)

Recommendation:  Write down what seems to be an adequate description of the purpose of the trip and the nature of its participants and see whether people agree with it.

2.  Talks

There was some confusion here.  People were keen to give talks to students and were expecting some timetable to be produced for Friday/Monday with slots to fit their own talks into.  In fact, nothing of the sort happened and it dawned rather slowly at least on me that what you had to do was tell Svetlana what students you wanted and she would arrange it.  So one of my painstakingly-prepared presentations went unused. 

Recommendation:  I think all you need to do is to include a statement in the guidance that if you want to speak to students you should tell Svetlana what students you want and when.

3.  Organisation 

Similarly to the above, I think there was a great desire among the group members to do something useful for the Permians–students and otherwise–and likewise they wanted to speak to us, but somehow it never quite happened. There were a number of simple things we could have done, like for instance appearing at the same same table in the canteen each day or putting up a notice to say we would be happy to talk to students and would be in such and such a room at such and such a time for a chat, but by the time this had occurred to us time was running out.

Recommendation:    Include a statement in the guidance to the effect that if you want to make yourself useful there are various things you can do [as above], otherwise you can just go on the excursions.

4.  Train

We wondered about the necessity of getting the train both ways, rather than flying back say, and whether a policy of booking bottom bunks was the best.  But there was no consensus for change.

Recommendation:  No change

5.  Comments on English teachers possibly going to Oxford:  None

6.  Conclusion

This is becoming something that happens because it happens and so it’s beginning to drift.

Recommendation:  The arrangements for the programme should be reviewed in the light of a clearly-articulated purpose.

ANNEX 2: OBJECTIVES

Since no-one was specifying any objectives apart from raising money, I decided that they were:

1. Subsidise Permian teacher/s coming to Oxford

2. Give participants different experiences of Russia and do this as cheaply as possible

 3. Give Perm State University students and other Permians exposure to native English speakers by

–participants giving talks requested by those tasked with service teaching of English in other faculties

–participants volunteering talks on their own areas of interest

–otherwise

4. Give participants the opportunity to

–find out how their own area/s of interest/professional expertise are conducted in Perm/Russia

–exchange experiences with their counterparts

What’s on in Perm’ 8-23 September

July 16, 2012

We present some information below that may be of interest to those undertaking small group travel to Perm, and possibly to other people as well.

Portals

There are a couple of portals (that I have found so far) giving information on what’s on in Perm’:   properm and kulturaperm.  Neither of them is precisely abounding in events at present, but that may change…

Theatres

The ‘Theatre’ Theatre have Alye parusa  from 16 to 21 September.  They also have a festival called Tekstura of theatre and film about the present day, to be held 22-29 September.  Now that they’ve put the programme up, it looks rather interesting.  Pity it starts just as we leave…

The Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre opens its new season on 3 September.  In the relevant period, there is a Balanchine mixed programme on 8 September and the Marriage of Figaro (in Italian, as I am surprised to note) 18-23 September.

The Theatre of the Young Spectator has The Notebook (Agota Kristof) on 18/19 September, The Myths of Ancient Greece on 20 September, The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) on 21 September, and Dancing at Lughnasa  (Brian Friel) on 22 September.

The Bridge Theatre has The Cripple of Inishmaan on 8/9 September, Sansara (after Oleg Bodaev) on 11/12 September, Termen (‘Premiere!–An improbable story’) on 13-15 September, The Wedding 16/17 September, Juno and Perhaps  (a cult rock opera…perhaps) 18/19 September and The Hen 20/21 September.

The Red Flower Theatre has A Castle in Sweden on 12 and 19 September.

The New Drama Theatre has nothing listed after May 2012.

It looks as if the Hammer Stage are doing Tekstura as well.  They also have The Murderer (Aleksandr Molchanov; ‘Premiere!  Andrei has lost too much money at cards; they will forgive his debt, if he kills another debtor’) on 18-20 September.

The Evgeniy Panfilov Ballet are doing A Beach ‘Comme il faut’/The Winds Change (‘a show programme in two sections’) on 19 and 20 September.

Concerts

The Perm Philharmonia starts its season on 19 September with a performance by what seems to be Yuri Beshmet’s Orchestra from Moscow.  As far as I can tell from their site, the programme will include some (but surely not all) of: Khrennikov’s First Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Harold in Italy (Berlioz) and the Romeo and Juliet Overture (Tchaikovsky again).