July 1, 2008

The American Home

23 June 2008
Day 1

After breakfast, Andrei - my host "Dad" - drove me to the American Home for Day 1 of stuffing our brains with valuable information about Russia, past and present. The American Home, conceived and built in 1992 by our Co-Director Ron Pope (ISU) - with help from some other designers and contractors, of course - is like many of the cookie cutter houses that grace the suburbs of America, but it is truly a novelty in Russia. It's really wonderful to have a home base that FEELS like a home away from home.

I should take a minute to mention the central figures in the implementation of the in-country seminar. None of this would be possible without Ron and his right and left hands - Alexei Altonen and his wife, Galya - they are the forces behind the in-country itinerary and they are truly amazing. I know, from my experience at my previous job and here at U of C, how much work goes into shepherding 15 people around for even a couple of days, much less the four weeks of the Fulbright program. There are not enough kudos in the world to thank them for their attention to detail, their efforts to create a diverse, educational program, and their warmth and kindness.

One thing that we will all need to get used to is the media attention that our group has inspired. A young reporter interviewed me for his (hopefully radio, not television) show on why this Fulbright program is important and necessary. At least these are questions that I can answer...

After lunch, we had a walking tour of Bol'shaya Moskovskaya Street - the main drag in Vladimir - with a guided tour of the history museum and Golden Gates. I will post a picture of the Golden Gates, considered the symbol of Vladimir, when I can get the pictures downloaded (uploaded?) from my camera. The museums were quite amazing. The history museum had archaeological artifacts (I'd never seen a real mammoth tusk or tooth before) and exhibits through to present Vladimir. The Golden Gates contains a stunning diorama of the city in 1258, when the Mongols were attacking (and subsequently burning) the entire city. It was like being in the movie "Night at the Museum." The rest of the exhibits were devoted to the military history of the region - an entire corridor of portraits of war heroes and odes to technological and scientific achievements.

After the "official" day concluded, Ira and Lena - my host "Mom" and her best friend - took me to see "Sex and the City" at a beautiful, new movie theatre in town. It was a great movie to see for a couple of reasons. (1) I could handle most of the dialogue even with my pathetic Russian skills (and there were visual aids to intuit the plot when I couldn't understand a few words); and (2) it was worth it even if I couldn't have understood a thing to hear the voice-overs. Most of the voices were COMPLETELY wrong for the characters and it had me laughing for the entire 2 hours. (I'm sure the beer Ira bought me at the concession stand and the jet lag helped).

But, it was a very enjoyable day.

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