writing about learning russian

iulie 30, 2011

i read this book that i liked a lot, sometime this spring – beginning of june, i guess – i started it on a cold rainy weekend, amidst some stress, maybe that`s why it made so much PERFECT  sense to me. the book is by caroline adderson, it`s called ‘the sky is falling’.

things this book can be said to be about:

– vancouver!!! the house the heroine rents in is on trutch! and she studies at UBC. so many places and things where i jumped up and gasped as in ‘i was there!’

– the ’80s, the Cold War. this is what the title refers to. of course i know nothing about that, because i`m a)too young, b) from the other side – but for the same reasons i`ve always been curious. though it still sounds very abstract to me. i can`t understand what people were afraid would happen. nowadays we have global warming, and our brand of terrorism, and a response of permanent terror is still weird.

– first love / considering lesbian attraction. what the narrator`s thoughts and feelings and problems are is so removed from sex and couplehood that it endears her instantly. and she`s 20. mmm, i was like YEAH  all along, although of course i realize she didn`t uphold herself as a standard of normality.

– and the name of her love object is sonia. i giggled about it and couldn`t help telling sonja. vancouver and sonias, it`s a thing!

– RUSSIAN. now we`re talking. although this could be split in 2 parts: the literature one and more importantly, the language. i don`t care enough for chekhov, on which the narrator is writing her thesis…but book-wise, at some point, she develops a short theory about kitty`s attachment to and fascination with other women in ‘anna karenina’. on the other hand, language….maaaaan!

i know more russian than her now. which is totally beside the point. the author admittedly speaks no russian at all, and did all the insertions in the text with the help of friends. but the sense of adventure in starting the study, of the doors it opens and the mysteries it entails, and how, without knowing at all what you`re doing you can go around renaming each object automatically – this is so well written. i don`t often envy people for having STOLEN MY THINGS  and written them down, but this is it; one of the cases of, damn, i should have written that, not her. i don`t even mean the whole book, just the interwoven language parts. i realize also that for westerners russian has a different sort of mystique than for me (although i`m questioning that now a bit: it can`t be that different. i come from the west of this language too, and was too young to suffer OF it. if anything, my take on it is americanized, as compared to my parents`…..).

anyway: i have been there, done that. the russian learning. the impressing-people-with-the-strange-alphabet-i-can-write; the letting-them-think-i-am-more-fluent-than-i-actually-am; the instantly-translating-things; the doing-my-homework; the wonder of language acquisition which i had been unable to theorize with either the english or french while getting the basics of them.

the narrator doesn`t choose russian; i don`t even think she says she likes it. she just ends up taking it, passively, where russian is a metaphor for…everything: for the age and times she grows up in, for the actions and plans she gets dragged into, and the general atmosphere – the ominous thrill of it.

so yeah, in spite of the not-so-plotty content, i loved this book from cover to back cover and am recommending it warmly. not only it gave me a huge russian-learning boost, it re-sparked my reading interest and, again, made me miss vancouver.


new relevant information

iulie 30, 2011

To : Ministry of Immigration and Cultural Communities of Québec

Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur

In response to your email following my application for a Certificate of Selection by Québec, I do have a few new pieces of information concerning my current situation here as temporary resident. I hope they will contribute to a favourable view of my case.

1. My previous roommate left Canada and as such left me in full possesion of various pieces of furniture, kitchen implements, clothing items and a number of house plants, some of which might be said to have attained tree status (see attached photos).

2. My current roommate is designing me as `owner` of our live house pets (fish) – (photo attached)

3. As a new signer of a lease, I opened an account with Hydro Quebec, for which I had to pay 50$ (see copy of receipt).

4. I have entered a form of verbal agreement with the salesman in the shoe shop at Rachel corner St. Denis, that signifies my desire and intention to purchase a pair of black leather winter boots (value 200$, reduced from 350$) upon receiving my next paycheck (I wish I could attach a photo, or transcript of conversation, but, alas.).

As result of above mentioned events, I am becoming increasingly aware of the weight of responsibility I am taking on, as a caretaker for Québec-based live beings and as an investing participant in Québec economy.  I consider that my actions speak clearly of my awareness and acceptance of the high taxes and tough winters so specific to Québec – and, moreover, of a willingness to surround myself with the elements required by a steady, `settled` lifestyle here.  I hope your final decision goes in agreement with my current spendings.

As a sidenote, based on previous personal experiences and lessons learned thereby, I can also promise in all clear conscience to not date anglophones, or at least non-French speakers, ever again for as long as I live here  – consequently, my future children will be at least trilingual, with French their solid daily used second language.

Vive le Quebec!

Yours truly ___


and rain falls on us

iulie 22, 2011

it’s been crazy hot for probably one full week now. it doesn’t look too impressive when you just seew the official temperature – but when you factor in the humidity…oh boy. i’d say generally over 25 is already hard to bear („feels like” at least low 30s). today we had 34, feels like 45. just for the users of the other system: 34 is 93F, so there. i got a tan within 3 days, jusat from going to work in the morning (by metro and bus) and back in the afternoon, i.e. 15-20 minutes of exposure.

i’ve been sleeping little and at crazy times lately, partly the heat partly just painting tables/swapping lifestories/writing to the landlords with the roomie. last night culminated in me being woken up at 3 am by an animal (racoon? i guess) in the garbage below my window, and not being able to sleep again because of the heat. so today after my shift was done i simply collapsed…uh, almost. i can’t stand the AC, but even with just the fan on i feel i can’t breathe properly. a painful but necessary 2 hour nap. afterwards, around 10 pm, we were in the kitchen spraying ourselves with the water spritzer for the plants. drinking smoothies with big ice cubes. and then the rain started.

(off topic): last night i went with a friend to see the fireworks from the jacques cartier bridge. there are certain things that every self-respecting montrealais „should” do in the summertime – fireworks is one. others are maybe one jazz festival night, one „juste pour rire”, an ethnic festival on jean drapeau, la ronde, picnic in the park, going off to a lake, … so i was feeling righteous, i.e. look, i can cross this thing off my summer list.

and then this other thing happens that just explodes my list altogether. rain. summer rain in the dark, and no one to frown on us for going out to dance in it. a celebration. its own festival. we ran, in flip-flops and cotton dress, skirt and top, under the pouring relief. the anarchists across the street were out too, shirtless. our neighbour isabelle was on her balcony: she came and joined us just enough to get all wet, and for a happy hug. then we walked towards laurier, through the ruelles. occasional people cheering from their balconies. it was so cheerful and liberating and the most natural thing in the world. then the rain stopped all of a sudden, and now it’s almost as hot as before.


dirt falls on us!!!

iulie 22, 2011

To: Mr. Mr. Landlords

Object:  Current state of washroom and updates on the work done, app x , no  xxxxx xxxxxx

We would like to advise you on the current state of the bathroom and update you about the progression of reparations since July 3rd.

July 3 the washroom was flooded by responsibility of construction workers. We cleaned up and were told the ceiling would be fixed by July 16th.

July 16th No work done

July 18th We pleaded with  the workers to do some work, or update us on the situation (David was not here). One worker came and stripped the ceiling.  He told us that he would leave it stripped because the entire bathroom needed to be renovated. No date was given, no updates made by anyone about anything.

Currently, our washroom is unusable, completely unsanitary. Rocks and dirt fall from the exposed ceiling at all times of the day; we cannot clean, maintain or use it.

Unsanitary conditions

  • The walls, cabinet and tiles have absorbed the dirty water from the flood on July 3rd
  • Rocks fall from the ceiling (this can block the pipes)
  • The dirt is spreading to the rest of the apartment; we have been cleaning but gave up.
  • We would like to remind you of the risk that mushrooms (fungus) can grow behind the tiles and cabinet affected during the flood.

DILEMMA Situation

  • We are unable to use the washroom properly, dirt falls on us
  • We have no updates about the type of work which will be done nor have we been given the date. What we were promised is not done and we are left hanging!
  • +Construction holidays are here!!!?!+

It’s almost one month since our bathroom – the ½ of our 3 ½ – has been increasingly unusable, and even posing health risks. We feel obliged to withhold the proportion of the rent covering the said space – precisely  1/7th of the 735$. Considering the anxiety caused to us, we feel that no matter how soon you renovate this bathroom, we should still be entitled to paying less than the full rent for the following month.

Please make appropriate recommendations to either the construction workers or the accountant.

Carmen and Melanie


i went to the russian store

iulie 16, 2011

there is one, THE  russian store in montreal. not that i’m an expert, but that’s the place everybody seems to have heard of, or send you to when you ask. i only went there once with d. last summer, then in winter once and now, this week. i mean it’s fun.

it’s at plamondon, so from my work i need to go west and change metro lines. but it’s right by the station. surrounded by asian shops and swarmed by such a colorful population that i could never guess as to the actual componence of the neighbourhood – which is alright. inside, first thing i heard was a romanian mother scolding her child. then various forms of slavic languages (not yet trained to tell whether it’s all russian). a black lady with a violet turban was looking at the pickles – no idea whether she was just a tourist like me, i hope not.

i finally had time to spend reading the labels. in writing it’s easier for me, because i can tell polish at a glance (of course! all those zbwzyczky) and also the difference between ukrainian and russian. beside food, they have a small section of books (indifferent paperbacks, maybe romance and crime) and of cosmetics. i’m seriously much better at discovering what is what just from labels, than i was back in february. i just got „fun food” though: armenian bread (for melanie! she was happy, she said they eat it in the old country, but not here), a bunch of selected candy, 2 huge bags of sweet corn sticks, letonian sprot (i learnt that from d! they’re from riga, where he was born), polish processed cheese and the only romanian product in the store : a bag of Eugenias.( for the non-romanians : it’s sort of a cocoa cream cookie, but for us it’s legend.) oh, and a box of chicory, which i have no idea how to use.(maybe i’ll enlist melanie later to go for herrings and pickled stuff or jams…things are not expensive, and then, there’s the illusion of being on an Eastern Planet complete in itself. priceless.)

„daite, pajalusta,” the cashier said, gesturing to my bags.

дайте пoжалуйста – she said. 🙂 i smiled and held the bags to her as if i’d won the raffle.

двадцать три восемьдесят…something, she said, and because i was scrunching my eyes calculating in my head, she repeated the price in french.

then i took three russian newspapers – „our gazette”, „east/west” and something else. i read the anecdote page on the metro, feeling a bit of an impostor and eating the candy with the squirrel on the wrapper. this visit – a short and smiling and violent encounter. from the moment the light hit through on the plamondon stairs, two different layers of nostalgia netted me and clogged me down. that, plus daydreaming plus the frisson the contact with a foreign language always gives me. i’m restarting russian classes next week anyway, so.


the blue room poem

iulie 14, 2011

(for hélène and shiva)

 

i found the walls blue, stickered with long-stemmed

tulips; scrubbed the smell out with wet wipes, but the window

dust streaks stayed – ancient, unreachable. i brought

good faith, the bed with a broken board, the big chair. what i left

is gone in a van, under varnish, to pieces.

 

last spring, out of the taxi with two suitcases

and three boxes, i dreamt of permanence. now i know better.

or worse. it`s just seasonal heartbreak, perfumed

with sweat, lindens and earth after rain. tout va être correct.

along every street cabinets, chairs, soft worn sofas wait

to be rechosen. all these chance meetings.

 

i cross st joseph holding traffic, holding a writing desk

above my head. my new roomie finds an armoir coin Gilford

et Chabot, and guards it til enough passer-bys have stopped to help

push it home. for me. more plants, rug, plastic hangers, the cat

and the laptop`s unison purr. and suddenly here`s everything

again, even absences carried over, vivid-shimmery, dancing

like lights above treasures.


eastern nest

iulie 11, 2011

1. ‘eastern nest’

(eating sunflower seeds on the back balcony):

c: this is very eastern. why don’t canadians eat sunflower seeds?

m: we are very eastern, look in our fridge: balkan yogurt, russian jam, homemade armenian chicken…

[…rose water…]

c: i know! look at our house: crap all over the place, dripping pipes, bathroom ceiling falling in…

 

2.centipedes (because of the bathroom flooding, my no.1 fear was that we’d attract centipedes, since they love humidity. m. argues that one has to face their fears and get information on them)

m (on the phone with her friend): can you please call back in 5 minutes? my roommate and i are googling pictures of centipedes!

 

3. construction workers

3.1. m (wearing white bloomer-like shorts with a rose pattern): so i went to ask the workers for a hammer. i hope i didn`t look like those ditzy girls you know, ‘sorry guys, can i have a hammer pleeeease?’

c: were you wearing pants?

m: oops. oh my god.

 

3. 2. construction worker, looking at the dripping pipe in our kitchen – all of a sudden: t’as tu déjà fait l`amour à un voyou?

c: (bursts out laughing)

c: is this for real?

m (sitting at kitchen table): oh, you understood what he said? i was like, oh god, i hope carmen doesn`t understand that.

construction worker: (grinning)

 

3.3. c: you know we`re gonna miss the workers when they`re gone.

m: yes, they keep us company with their noises, and make us feel safe. they`re like our eight big brothers…

m: …badass brothers!

 

4. fish (veiltail/fantail goldfish – melanie had one, freddie, and we just got a baby, sasha)

aquarium is covered with a blanket

c: why did you cover the aquarium?

m: to isolate them – they must be so stressed, with all the changes and the mess around here.

c: and you think they`re not freaking out when you lift the blanket all of a sudden and stare at them?

m: i was trying to just take a quick discreet look.

m: oooh, they`re socializing! they`re touching!

c: very nice – you put the light off and they immediately start touching.

m: maybe…yes, if they get together, they`ll lay eggs! so we`ll have caviar!!

m: but that wouldn`t be right, sasha is still a child!

 

5. chinese astrology (you do not even want to know!!)

c: wow, you know what i just thought? the fish`s chinese sign is the cat!

m: ow, cutie!

 

i really don’t know what to say. days are adventurous, full of paint (hopefully it`s over now) and of sunshine and what else? russian, and entertaining books and eating random stuff and talking a lot. it`s like holiday camp a bit, but we should get down to achieving stuff. i`m really relieved that i painted my room, 2 white walls and it completely changes the vibe to the place. i`m too excited to sleep early – or maybe this is what summer is supposed to be like.