I have learned much during our life in Minsk during the past week. Here’s a partial list, in no particular order.
1. Riding the metro is easy and cheap. Doors open on one side in one direction and the other side in the other direction. Kids ride free, and a ride is the equivalent of 30 cents or so. Announcements are in Russian/Belorussian with a few lines of English thrown in for good measure. “Please mind the closing doors.” “Next stop is ___ station.”
2. Nice city parks are all around the city, especially along the Svislach River. If we cross the street at our apartments, pass under the bridge and cross the street again, we enter a park with some playground equipment, nice little paths, ducks at the river that is crisscrossed with little picturesque walking bridges. (And yes, that’s Abby’s little blankey, indispensable even on this side of the ocean.)
3. The guys at the electronics store at our little shopping center love practicing their English on me. They couldn’t stop grinning when they found out I was from the United States (pronounced “S-sh-uh”). One of them informed me that most Belorussians think coffee machines are too expensive. Getting a coffee at one of the numerous coffee shops (cafes) around the city is cheap, but the cups are quite small.
4. Universities here operate on a different timetable. I don’t need to worry about syllabi or book lists until the first day of class (or later) here. Meanwhile back in the U.S., they are already asking for my book lists for next semester. Since I will be teaching fourth-year and fifth-year students here, my two classes are once a week. Wednesdays will be a long day for me! But I will be giving some open lectures as well from time to time, speaking about American literature and culture to my heart’s content! Side Note: Some folks at Belarusian State University speak German, so I may be able to use that language just a bit while I’m here too.
5. We visited Gorky Park, where there are kids’ rides (like a mini-carnival) all the time. Little Johanna looks as surprised as Beth at some sight here in the park. This is a beautiful park, with benches and eats and souvenirs and a playground as well as kids’ rides. We’ll be back!
And down below, you’ll see that we took our seats on the gigantic ferris wheel from which you can view the city of Minsk all around. (Don’t worry. This is surrounded in Plexiglass– the girls are not about to fall off!)
6. Orthodox Cathedrals and Catholic Cathedrals are all over the city. The Soviets tried to stamp out religion in this country, but they couldn’t do it. Here’s the famous “Red Church” — the Church of Saints Simon and Helena. It was turned into a theatre during the Soviet era but is again a Catholic cathedral. While the Soviets “removed the valuables” (i.e. raided the temple!) from many of these cathedrals, they were returned to the Orthodox and Catholic Churches by the early 1990s. The Red Church here is Catholic; the White Church (Church of the Holy Spirit) is Orthodox. I’ll add a picture of it one day soon…
This particular church is right at Independence Square / Lenin Square, a big city square with streets all around and a mall underneath. To one side is the Congress building with a statue of Lenin in front of it and the Red Church not far away on the same side. On the opposite side is one of BSU’s many buildings in this part of the city. There is also a Soviet memorial of some sort nearby and a very tall building with something like a stained glass depiction of Mary (I think) at the top of its tower.
This is one of many places in the city where ancient architecture, Soviet-era architecture, and modern architecture merge in a strange cacophony of imagery. I know I’m mixing my senses here, but synaesthesia should always work its way into descriptions of the strange wonderful beauty of this city of contradictions and crossovers and old and new, and old and new again.
7. I leave you with one of the good shots of the city that I got from atop the Gorky Park Ferris Wheel (below). Tomorrow we will join a festival downtown, a celebration of Georgian music and culture (the Eastern European country Georgia, not the U.S. state Georgia!) as well as a side show by a Brazilian street artist… More to come!