Perspectives 2.4.10:Layout 1 2/16/10 5:24 PM Page 1
Strolling the streets of St. Petersburg
6 PERSPECTIVES February 4, 2010 G
Mount Holyoke News
BY MARIJA TESLA ’11
he cultural capital of Russia, St. Petersburg,
T was my home this past semester and is an in-
credible place to call home. -–
When I went abroad, I knew that my adventure would
be life-changing, but I did not know exactly why it would
be so transformative. I never thought that I was diving
into a world I knew nothing about. I had walked the streets
of St. Petersburg with Dostoevsky’s dilemma-struck
Raskolnikov. I was there, through the triumphs and the
tragedies of many Russian heroines and heroes as they
negotiated their lives in and with this city.
In Russian literature St. Petersburg is not just a setting.
Instead, St. Petersburg is a fully developed, full-bodied
character of its own. It is a city filled with beauty, kindness
and brightness; yet at the same time it is a city filled with
sadness, greed and ugliness. St. Petersburg’s dark winter
days and summer white nights well illustrate the city’s ex-
tremities—they depict a strong contrast, which con-
stantly reminded me that things are never as simple as
they may seem.
As soon as my plane landed in Pulkovo II, I felt a con-
nection with Russia and St. Petersburg. My semester
started with a trip to the Museum of the Blockade in St.
Petersburg, in which a tour guide talked about the 900-day
siege of former Leningrad. The siege lasted from Sept. 8,
1941 to Jan. 27, 1944. I went in that museum not being able
to understand 40 percent of what my tour guide was say-
ing. I walked out having understood so much. This odd
connection anchored me in St. Petersburg, whether I liked
it or not. In front of the Church of the Spilt Blood At the opera Iolanta, Mariinsky Theatre
Perhaps it was my own past that triggered this strong
connection—my Slavic background that roots me to Croa- ing the streets Raskolnikov did. I visited the Hermitage, interacts with at home. I finally experienced migration
tia and Serbia and my war-filled childhood. Perhaps it was the Russian Museum and the Church of the Spilt Blood from one country to another through choice and transcen-
the painful sadness around me that erased all borders and where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. I got to see dence instead of force, need for survival or a better life. I
allowed me to understand the people of St. Petersburg Swan Lake at the Mikhailovsky Theatre and go to the was there to study Russian—which I did—but I also
opera Iolanta at the Mariinsky Theatre, having missed learned much more.
simply on the basis that we are all human. Either way, I
grasped why my host-grandmother and grandfather never Anna Netrebko’s performance by a few days. I experi- My time in Russia was anything but a fairytale, but I
threw away food. enced the magic that is Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky over and am thankful for every single moment. My experience in
While I was there I strolled the halls of many gold filled over again. St. Petersburg cannot be qualified on an emotional scale
palaces and saw the still-existing communal apartments I encountered the never-smiling Russian that one sees between “good” and “bad”—it is much more nuanced
on my Crime and Punishment walk, this time really walk- on the street, and the warm ever-smiling Russian that one than that.
Photos by Marija Tesla
1. 2. 3. 4.
Russia U.K. Brazil Spain
Nesting Umbrella Jewelry Wine
doll from from from from
Russia. London. Brazil. Spain.
Russian nesting dolls, If you want to retain the Some of the most beauti- Here is a chance to retain
also known as ma- memory of the rainy days ful handcrafted jewelry in the taste of Spain with the
tryoshkas, make great you spent in London dur- the world is designed in textured flavors of the
gifts for family and ing your study abroad, Brazil. If you are planning world’s most sophisti-
friends waiting back buy an umbrella. Better to study abroad in this cated wines. Take home,
home. They are usually yet, get yourself one that Latin American country, for instance, the Sherry,
wooden female figures of carries images of the look for bamboo neck- which is produced in
different sizes and city’s most popular scenic laces, stained glass ear- southern Spain. If you are
dressed in sarafans. locales, views and motifs. rings, exotic beads and more of a champagne fan,
Nowadays, matryoshkas Black-and-white umbrel- other ethnic jewelry. grab the sparkling Cava,
can be modeled after well- las also make great gifts which comes from the
known world political fig- for fashion-savvy individ- Catalonia region.
ures and entertainers. uals.
Perspectives 2.4.10:Layout 1 2/16/10 5:25 PM Page 2
The many ways Budapest captivated me
February 4, 2010 G
Mount Holyoke News PERSPECTIVES
BY SILVIYA VALEVA ’11 One of the many things I am going to miss from my home in the Budapest. Hungarians are used to having foreign students and tourists
CONTRIBUTING WRITER last semester abroad is living in a big city. Budapest around, so one can get by with English almost everywhere. Knowing a few things in Hun-
truly is one of the most beautiful European capitals, di- garian, however, can really help as locals appreciate one’s effort to learn their language.
vided in two by the Danube river and colored by the eclectic architecture of bridges, cas- At first, we had to learn from experience whether a product on the shelf in the super-
tles, parks and museums. market was yoghurt or sour cream. A few times when we were in a hurry, we inhaled hot
In the fall, I joined the Budapest Semester in Mathematics coffee in the shop because we could not explain that we wanted
As we found ourselves in a for- drinks and what to buy in the store, even though the neighbor-
(BSM), a program designed especially for math undergraduates it “to go.” As we took the regular language class, however, things
in a foreign country with a different culture and language, it eign country with a different cul- hood kids still laughed at us as we made silly mistakes trying to
from the U.S. and Canada. The term had 69 students, most of fell more or less into place—we learned how to order food and
whom had never been to Europe before. As we found ourselves
was easy and fast to build friendships. We were rarely bored— ture and language, it was easy speak Hungarian.
What’s more, the city’s location enabled us to travel around Eu- and fast to build friendships.
weekends were full of sightseeing, traveling and partying. In school, classes were taught entirely in English. Most pro-
fessors came from the Budapest Technical University and Renyi
rope and see places like Prague, Vienna and Krakow. Institute for Mathematics with experience teaching in the U.S.
We got a sense of both the historical heritage of the city Thus, the classroom experience wasn’t much different from what
and its lively social character. Budapest has everything a young we knew. What made it exciting, though, was our group of math
person might need from efficient public transportation, big shopping malls and restau- majors who held in-depth discussions and solved challenging assignments.
rants to cute coffee shops and night clubs. International students, many of whom attend Budapest captured me with its low living expenses, historical heritage and vibrant
the Central European University and the Budapest campus of McDaniel College, feel at social life. I will be sure to visit again.
I made out with my hostmom
At the Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd) overlooking the Danube River Buda Castle Photos by Silviya Valeva
BY SIOBHAN ANDERSON ’11 went to plant one on my
STAFF WRITER right cheek. Our lips
met. Surprised, she
Saying hello in France, pulled away quickly and
depending on the size of the examined me head to toe.
two parties meeting, can Disaster warnings were run-
take up to fifteen minutes. ning through my head
All over France there are like the tickers at the
different rules bottom of news pro-
that apply to grams. One catastrophe
each region after the other, my
that dictate stock with French soci-
how many kisses ety plunging lower than the
one should give or dollar. I could see myself try-
receive when saying ing to explain the situation to
hello. Here, in Montpel- my family later: my mother try-
lier, the magic number ing to convince me that
is three. it happened all
When I arrived in the time, that
Montpellier, ignorant French people in
of both fact liked having
French slang intimate contact
and rather with people
u n hyg i e n i c they’ve never met,
greeting habits, no my Dad ignoring
one informed me that I the situation en-
would be receiving this con- tirely and asking
stant wave of affection. Meet- me if she smelled
ing my host mother was my like cigarettes or if
first true experience with “les her house looked like
bisous.” She entered the foyer of the the Moulin Rouge and my brother re-
hotel I had been staying in with a rush peating over and over “I can’t believe
of color, a certain smell of Chanel and you made out with your host mom!”
oddly, Starbucks (I later discovered that She continued to examine me.
this was because she took a weekly bath When I had finished my apologetic and
in the coffee grinds accumulated certainly incoherent rant she smiled,
throughout the week, and then would pulled me to her again and said, in bro-
perfume herself with Coco’s Number ken English, “Zees is ow vee do eet een
Nine). I recognized her from the photo France.” She took my head in her hands
she had sent when she offered a large and proceeded to kiss me, one kiss for
smile as she approached me. There was each cheek, done three times, turning
no time to witness any expression on my head slowly, making sure I under-
her face as she quickly grabbed me by stood.
the shoulders, yanked me to her like a Now, six months later, saying hello
policeman about to conduct a strip in France still eludes me occasionally,
search and leaned in towards my face but I am better at predicting now who to
with lips puckered like the pinched end kiss first, whether or not to kiss a girl
of an apple. Shocked and scared, yet still and whether it is appropriate to hold
wanting to be polite and cultivated (two someone’s hand while kissing. Needless
things which I later learned, are not pos- to say, a simple handshake seems like a
sible for Americans), I leaned in to pres- thing of the past.
ent the left side of my face, just as she