After a few busy weeks of preparations (including also extended holiday layovers in Denver; a delibitating 3-inch snowfall in Portland, the city of one snowplow; 90-minute haircuts and plenty of packing, shopping, selling, shipping, planning and correspondence), I left Portland for Moscow on January 22, 2007. I don't seem to have given much thought to the fact that I'm not coming back to the States until December, despite my real efforts to think of a thoughtful answer to all those "So, are you excited?" questions. It just feels like another trip to Russia. But after all, I have plenty of time for it to sink in.
Right now I am in Moscow for a few days, and then I am headed over to Kamchatka for about a week and a half for work. So, I officially do not begin the Fulbright until I arrive in Vladivostok on February 10. (I decided that living for 10 months continuously in Russia on the Fulbright wasn't quite long enough, so I thought I'd tack 3 weeks on the front end of the trip.) So far I am of course sticking to my"I don't speak English in Russia" language rule, and I am really hoping to improve my Russian more while here.
The original purpose of the Moscow trip was to go cross-country skiing (better to say, learn to cross-country ski, in my case), but it has been such a warm winter here that when I arrived on Monday, there was no snow! This week, however, daytime temperatures have been a brisk minus 10-15 degrees C, and some snow fell yesterday, so there is still a chance for one day of skiing tomorrow. So, I have been spending my time here visiting some of the wonderful colleagues and partners of the Wild Salmon Center, plus doing some preparation for the trip to Kamchatka. On Tuesday I got to go to Moscow State University (MGU) for the first time -- it is a very impressive place, in architecture alone -- and I finally saw Moscow from the Sparrow Hills (Боробьёвые горы), which are the highest point in the city (thanks to Vlad Pashin from MGU for taking me!). I also got to see my friend Alyona Ratataeva, who works for the PA Regulations Department at the Ministry of Natural Resources (and in the past couple of years has created Russia's first zapovednik in 10 years and recently a new national park), and yesterday I was lucky to get to meet Faina Zakharova, a very interesting woman who has tons of experience in the Russian environmental and fundraising communities. It seems that she has been everywhere in Russia!
Today Gennady Inozemtsev (Genna), WSC's Moscow representative, took me around the city. I finally went inside the Kremlin walls, which I rather inexcusably had not done before, saw the offices of the KGU, learned why the Russian alphabet is called "Cyrillic" and why Chistye Prudy (the Clean Ponds) are clean, and more. Genna is an excellent tour guide and obviously really loves his city.
Everyone seems to know somebody in Vladivostok, and I have really been touched by all the offers -- even from people who I don't know well or have just met -- to help me out when I arrive there, introduce me to people, etc. My travel agent, Debbie Chapman, who I have been in touch with since my first days of Russia and Russian back at Wellesley, has a friend in Vlad who has offered to let me stay with her when I arrive and help me to find an apartment. I called her and talked to her today. This is such a generous offer; it almost seems too good that it could work out, and I really hope that it does! I am very lucky to have the chance to come across such people.
On Monday I will leave Moscow for Kamchatka, where, among other things, I am going to get to attend a seminar on protected area management that I have been planning for a long time together with American and Russian partners. It has been a lot of work, but also really interesting, and the project has allowed me to make contact with a lot of new people in Russia, including real experts in their field. There should be some very knowledgeable people from Russia and the U.S. coming in for the seminar, and I am really looking forward to the chance to meet them. I just hope that all goes well and is beneficial!
Pictures: 1. Portland from my apartment, 2. snowfall in Portland, 3. me in front of Moscow at the Sparrow Hills, 4. me in front of the Tsar Cannon (Царь-пушка, the cannon of all cannons) inside the Kremlin