15 January 2008


One thing I've really noticed in the past few years is the way time seems to dilate and contract as it goes by. This is true of life in general, not just life in Russia, but it seems especially noticeable when, like I am now, you're in a situation that you know will last for a limited time. At first, the entire duration stretches ahead of you, its vastness and possibilities apparently limited only by your own expectations of what's going to happen. Then the year begins to pass, and that vast, amorphous chunk of time contracts into a series of discrete moments and a list, surprisingly short, of the things you managed to get done and the things you didn't. What's in front of you still has that widened, unfocused perspective, as long as it's far enough away, but time seems to be flowing faster and you start to get the uneasy feeling that nothing is going to last quite as long as you were led to believe. Before long, the little bubble of contracted time you float along in will bump right up against the end of your stay and you won't have any vast, fuzzy future time in Russia left to savor – just a lot of packing and a ten-hour plane ride home.

Lucky for you, though, the human capacity for memory is limited, and because of that, autumn will already have re-expanded to almost its former proportions before the last snows of winter have melted. The discrete moments become less discrete, with the best and most memorable ones swelling to fill much more time than they first seemed to, bleeding together at the edges. It becomes harder to tell whether drinking beers with your friends on the beach, watching Chekhov at the theater, or finally managing to make a really good joke in Russian were things that happened once or over and over, for a few minutes or hours or days on end. In grammatical terms, it's a shift from the rigidity of the preterite – "It happened." – to the more forgiving past imperfect – "It was happening." And in your memory, it all keeps happening and happening.

Sorry, I know that's not at all the kind of thing I usually write here. I guess I'm feeling a bit sloppy and sentimental; we're halfway through the academic year now, I've submitted all my applications for things to do for next year, and I can see the future hurtling toward me (and contracting) at an alarming rate. On the bright side, a confluence of factors made this past weekend one of those ones that will definitely expand in memory, and maybe end up defining the whole of January 2008 or even the whole winter for me. Mostly in good ways.

The best, I think, was the New Year's party I played unsuspecting host to on Sunday. I was under the impression that a few of my students were coming over to watch a movie and eat some peanut butter cookies. But a lot more people came than I thought I had invited (sort of my mistake, sort of not), the person who was supposed to bring the movie forgot it, and it turned out to be Old New Year's Eve. (That is, New Year's Eve according to the old Julian calendar.) So I had a party without stressing out about planning a party, and it was great. We sang, we toasted the new year with champagne, we made noises about playing charades but never actually did it, we roamed the streets in search of New Year's trees and then danced around them in the traditional way, we took up a collection to buy new year's party food and drink, and we came back to my apartment to toast the new year again, this time with vodka. I think from now on I'll try to keep myself in the dark about all my parties.

And now I'm headed off for (another!) vacation – my much-anticipated trip to Petrozavodsk and Murmansk followed by the midyear conference in Moscow – so hopefully there are more great memories to come! There probably won't be any new posts for a couple of weeks, though – sorry!

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