Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Time to Answer Your Questions

Maria asked if a different brewing system is used in making coffee.

I asked around and found that most people prefer instant, as they believe that there is a lower caffeine content. It is possible to buy beans and ground coffee, but it seems most people prefer instant. I believe that the comments about alternative filtering systems are right on the mark though; I found beans, but no filters. I would have to estimate, however, that 90% of the shelf space at the Russia Market and the Metapom Market are devoted to instant. There is, however, a tremendous selection of teas, most of it loose, much of it herbal.

Ray asked if church attendance may be higher in Luhansk than other regions.

I honestly cannot say. But while the chapel was quite full, there could not have been more than 100 people there in a city of more than a half million. There are several smaller churches in the area, however. I am told that, like in America, attendance spikes at Christmas and Easter. The observation that mostly middle aged and older people go to church is confirmed by my sources, including one of my students, who I saw at one of the smaller churches. I believe that my comment on the failure of the Soviet authorities to effectively discourage religion comes from the fact that there was/is a rather extensive religious infrastructure in place. While the Cathedral is new, the seminary is not; if I had to guess, it is about 40 years old, placing the building and the chapel squarely in the Soviet era. One of the smaller churches I visited is between the corner of Defense and Soviet Streets and the town square, placing it right in the middle of the most prime real estate in the city. Again, that church was almost definitely built during Soviet times.

This also comes to the point that Susan made about the Russian Orthodox Church. I do wonder if the Soviets were more tolerant of religious activity in the republics. The chanting, buy the way, was mesmerizing; she knows how much I love chant ;-)

I was fascinated by Rick’s comments on Chernobyl. I suspect that there may have been some harassment, but that the type of interference that we hear about with China and the Catholic Church did not exist. But that is based on the assumption that there was some logic to the Soviet policy; why control something you officially condemn? Perhaps I give them too much credit.

Kate made mention of Dunkin Donuts.

While it is sorely missed on a personal level, it is very refreshing to be in a place where there are no McDonalds, Burger Kings, or any sort of corporate/standardized chain stores. The stores on the commercial street seem to be rather small concerns (except the Metro store) and they are very concerned with customer service. There is an attendant at most of the counters (bakery, candy) and I have never seen a line longer than 1 customer, as they have 7 or 8 registers open every time I have been in. As a matter of fact, there seems to be a burgeoning “kiosk” culture, where small entrepreneurs set up shop in the larger markets or directly on the street. But if someone opened a coffee shop, say like The Last Drop in Philly, or Brew'd Awakening in Lowell, I suspect they would make a killing, as long as they also catered to the reduced caffeine market.

Linda asked if I could send a post card.

I would love to, if I can find one. I have looked and just have not been able to find any. I will ask around. Perhaps Luhansk is not considered a “tourist” center. The Post Office even sells greeting cards, but no post cards. I will bring in pictures, though. I think the kids would get a kick out of some of them.

Denise asked about the cultural life, especially the ballet.

The University has a fantastic arts facility and while I was there, they were practicing ballet. The instructor seemed very strict. No one I have talked to about cultural life has mentioned the ballet, but they are all musicians who like to talk about the Philharmonic Society, which they say is quite good. Everything is closed for the summer, and I can’t blame them, it is horribly hot. I will ask around some more.

This just in, there is a ballet troupe that performs at the Ukrainian Theater, but it is not a very big operation. There are smaller schools, but nothing major.

Rick also mentioned the difference between what our perceptions were of the Soviets and how they are perceived here.

I have had quite a few conversations on the subject with my colleagues and students. They are quite open to talking about it. Let me emphasize that no one wants to go back to the way things were. They are glad the Soviet Union has ended and are happy to be part of the market economy. That being said, they also realize, probably better that Americans do, the limits of the market. The Soviet Union provided a modicum of stability and predictability to peoples’ lives. One of my informants called it security. When that is taken away, some people like to wax romantic about the past, despite the fact the complained about it during the time. I am told that many older people do just that. The young are indifferent.

Suffice it to say, our perceptions of the Soviets were always clouded by the political conflict between our nations, and like any perceptions based in fear, they are many times a little distorted. They were not horrible monsters (with a few exceptions, such as Stalin), nor were they the answer to all the world’s problems. Most of the Soviet people were just like us, trying to make a living and taking care of their families the best way they could.

There seems to be a real optimism about the future here, and I wish them all the best as they try to make their way through it.

Big News!!!- I found a cafe where I can get decent Latte. Expect a full review in the future.

If you have any other questions, please let me know.


casaled said...

So happy to hear about your new find! Latte!! Thank you for the information regarding the Ballet corps. FYI, I attended the Technology and Engineering (Museum of Science) Conference. They were very impressed by your submission and Kathy and Jane did a great job presenting your material. Engineering design in our district should have a more popular/preferred direction in the future as the team works on this. I just wanted to let you know that your work was presented and a future plans were initiated for our district. I'm sure that you will hear all about it upon your safe return to the states. Enjoy your latte!! I love reading about your experiences!!

irena said...

It is nice to hear someone else say that the views from soviet union (and I will add, as well as other similar countries) were and still are distorted. There were churches and mosques and people got christened and followed their traditions, as they still do. I have a very devout catholic side of family who were faithful even under socialists reign (in former Yugoslavia), and also orthodox side that followed their own religion. (I got christened twice),not to mention I grew up with mosque overlooking the city. What was good in a way before war and free markets that people had job security, medical insurance, pensions, and a life. Now it is similar to here where everyone is replaceable and outsourcable , not many employers offer the benefits, and there is never enough time.