I’ve been here nearly a week now. It’s hard to gauge how well I’ll like it after a year, but so far I love it. Initially the slight disrepair of everything caught me off guard. Imagine, if you will, an entire country modeled after Glouster or some similar dilapidated southern Ohio town. Everywhere buildings are crumbling. The road between Vladimir and Moscow stretches grimly along hours and hours of moribund wilderness, the trees and grass tinted with sickly hues that match those of the sky. Huge soviet apartments rise from the earth seemingly at random.
In the actual city of Vladimir, once the capital of Russia, the scene isn’t much different. The buildings are old, and they wear their age with cracked facades. I live roughly 35 minutes away from work by foot. However, Vladimir has an excellent public transit service, and I usually take the bus to work.
Russians have a very distinct, acrid body odor, and it seems to permeate the city. The fetor comes at the oddest of times. There are times when I am walking through a market or sitting on a bus, and that biting stink wafts by, and I am simply astounded by it. I’ve never encountered such a persistent or devious scent in America.
The city is much bigger than I thought it would be. I was originally told Vladimir was a ‘small town.’ I then was told it has roughly 200,000 people. In reality, it has closer to 350,000. I don’t have to speak much to the locals. My conversations are pretty much confined to asking babushkas on the bus if they are going to get off at the next stop. Other than that, I’ve had a few random encounters with people on the streets. They’ll ask me for a lighter or a cigarette or money for beer. Usually I have no idea what they are saying, and I just walk away.
Despite the general state of arrested decay of the city, there is a beauty here. This city is ancient, and its history and culture are rich. I love to walk through the streets and simply take in the vast differences of the people and architecture. A few days ago, two of the teachers and I went with two Russians to a park near some centuries-old cathedrals. We sat on a hill that looked out over miles and miles of land, and we drank cheap Russian beer in the midday heat. By the way, I was not greeted by the mild Russian summer I expected. It is just as hot in Vladimir as it was in Athens.
As I write this, I am watching Russian television with my host mother. She loves the program, ‘Let’s Get Married.’ As far as I can tell, young men and women come on the show to try to find a husband or wife, selecting from three suitors. I guess there are astrologers who help decide. I don’t really understand it or her enjoyment of it, but it’s good practice for listening to the language.