July 3, 2008

Girls Night Out

25 June 2008
Day 3

There will be no time for homesickness here. It is simply impossible (OK, not impossible, but we certainly don't have time to pine for our loved ones as we're frantically scribbling notes during lectures and panel discussions). Information is coming at us fast and furious and we are all wearing our catchers' mitts. This is a wonderful program, but VERY intense - kind of like a downpour when you really need a gentle rain.

This morning we went to the Vladimir Museum Complex and toured the Children's Museum. It was not as much an interactive "play" museum like in Pittsburgh or Chicago, but rather a brilliantly devised museum devoted to the history of the region, presented in a way that will lure children into wanting to know more. My favorite thing was the wall painting in the prehistoric room, textured with some sort of furry material, with a real mammoth tusk incorporated into it. Quite amazing and very creative.

We heard lectures on Russian names and greetings and on the process of adopting Russian children (strategically placed the day before our visit to a Russian orphanage) and visited the Palace for Children's Creative Learning, which does indeed resemble a huge concrete castle. It's essentially the central operations for every type of extra-curricular activity that kids in Vladimir can participate in: sports (including a rock-climbing wall built by the American Home); fine arts; crafts; music; they even have an enormous indoor winter garden. The garden was particularly fun - like a miniature version of the Garfield Park Conservatory - and there were several birds in residence, including a large, green parrot. Apparently, one of the students received the parrot as a Christmas gift and found out she was allergic to him, so he now lives in the Palace garden and she can visit him regularly. He didn't react to any of our group when we said hello with our highly accented Russian greetings, but Olga Piekarski - one of the few in our group who is fluent in Russian - held a veritable conversation with him!

Some of the kids performed for us - the Director of Music is very successful in training the students of voice. There was a version of Ave Maria - a choir with a young female soloist - which gave me goosebumps and had me quickly pulling out my Kleenex. Not only did the kids sing like angels, but they were very confident and poised (Stephen Dunn's choice of words, which captured the essence perfectly). After the performance, we had tea with the kids. It was very fun, but made me very homesick. Any of you that know my children know that Sophia has the voice of an angel. Emma still needs a small bucket in which to carry her tune, but I do miss her belting out "Yellow Submarine" on the 171 bus...

The evening was a real treat. Once a month, Ira and three of her friends from school have a girls' night out dinner at one of their houses. This one was at Lena's. Lena's family had recently vacationed in Crete, so the theme was Greek cuisine. It was delicious, washed down with red wine and grapefruit infused vodka. But the best part was listening to the ladies sing. After dinner, they head into the living room, light candles on the piano and sing Russian folk songs and ballads until the tea pot lures them back into the kitchen. They have a set repertoire of tunes they've perfected with intimate harmonies - it's wonderful. Lena even did a solo arrangement of "Yesterday" for my benefit.

I am extremely grateful to have been invited and propose a toast to friendship... Cheers!

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