Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

13 Aug 2001, 4:03 a.m.

S-Town, B-Rown

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.


Er, that is to say, I'm in Stockton for a few more days, and I'm brown.

Trilingual hilarity from the Harihareswara household:
"What is the Russian for [Kannada for 'are you full?']?"
"Why would they say that? They just keep feeding you no matter what."

Talked to Vera, my old host mom, on the phone today. And my Russian is not completely shoddy. Yet. I really want to keep my Russian skills and improve them to (dare I hope?) fluency, since I'm beginning to realize that Russian could be my only really salable skill when I graduate in May.

Okay, I had no idea what people were talking about at the CollabNet picnic when they were talking about Star Wars and clones. Until I saw some offhanded mention at Nightlight Press. I must agree that "Attack of the Clones" sounds like a joke.

Had a driving lesson today. Want to get my license soon. I won't be driving with any frequency for a year, but it'll be good to have that particular skill under my belt.

Explaining to Mom what I like about Russia is sort of tough. I mean, I like it, in retrospect, that people don't make as much small talk with strangers in shops and buses and so on. I like the private-public distinction. But there's more that I have yet to tease out. I have to go back.

I'm working on finishing up Russia travelogues, e.g., Solovki Isles.


Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at

Solovki, Part III ...?

Mon Aug 13th, 2001 at 06:53:20 PM PST

The third part, I think, of my travelog of the Solovki Islands in Russia. Parts I and II, if you please.

A note from the Wednesday night-Thursday morning train:

"So, what percentage of the $6,000 [the fee, paid in advance, for the summer program] do you think goes to bribes?"
"None; that's the problem."

Friday: The Monastery
I woke up and, insanely, wished that I had Pinkerdy with me. Pinkerdy is my primary stuffed animal and the only one who still lives with me in Berkeley.

Straight from the notebook:

Friday morning. 20 iulia 2001 g. [20 July 2001], I guess. Damn, a lot of mosquitoes out here by the lake! Not too near, but goodness! Aside from that, a cool, brisk, wonderful morning to walk in natural beauty.

It turned out that the cheesecloth and duct tape that many of us had brought were much more useful for bandaging Katie's foot than for keeping out mosquitoes.

We had an excursion to the monastery on the island. Women were supposed to wear skirts and cover their heads. My colorful head-scarf and flowery skirt led Anatolik to say that I looked like a "Typical Russian woman." Perhaps even a gypsy! But Anatolik was mostly kidding, he said.

I wonder why the Russian Orthodox Church rules that women must cover their heads and wear skirts for church?

I sort of listened to the droning guide. But my attention was more captivated by the man chopping wood in the grassy courtyard. He had a tremendous pile of uncut wood next to him. It looked like a backbreaking task, a penance for some unbelievable, Hawthornian sin.


The most moving moment was in a grand hall with vaulted arches for ceilings. I felt an intense sensation of holiness that reminded me of Hindu temples. My heart seemed to beat faster in this house of the Lord. Anatolik had the same look on his face as I did. It seemed like such a holy place, and the smell of oil lamps and candles seemed so familiar.

For some reason I remembered some morning I'd spent with Dan, early in May, I think. It had been before our finals had begun, or at least towards the end of the semester. He made pancakes, and microwaved some jelly to make syrup. We ate breakfast and watched some sort of home improvement show on TV and talked about what features an ideal house might have. Maybe it was all the renovation at This Old Monastery that reminded me of "The New Yankee Workshop" and "Home Again" and all those shows, and that Saturday morning in early summer on Parker Street. And I remembered the last few times I'd seen anyone cry.


The holy place reminded me of my father. I suddenly wanted to call Dad and check on his health. But making an international phone call from the Solovki Islands is not a trivial matter.

"This Old Monastery" also reminded me of The Blair Witch Project for some reason. Don't ask me.

(Did von Clausewitz say that "War is politics by other means," or vice versa?)

Whilst walking around the monastery:

Me: "What is that music?"
Casey: "That's discotheque, honey."
"Oh, God."
"You just said God's name in vain in a monastery."
"They're playing disco! That's worse!"

From the bell tower, one saw ten or twelve extremely alluring views of the countryside. Rural/Ural. These were the kinds of dizzily romantic, picture-perfect views that make someone want to throw away all the advantages of civilization to live The Simple Life. Much of the trip was, I now retrospectively realize, just a decompression from the hectic pace of St. Petersburg life. It just doesn't do to take the metro every day for a month without a break among "forests, trees, and rivers," to quote Yevgeny Yevtuschenko (from a completely different context, his poem "When First Your Face Came Rising").

In the monastery museum, I saw a photo of the monastery surrounded by snow. In the lower right quadrant of the picture lay a shadow -- that of the photographer.

I was late to the tourist complex and walked with the Russians instead of taking the bus along with the group. We Russians, er, we Russians and an American, were late because we bought souvenirs. I bought a cassette of choral music. The walk back was quite picturesque and pleasant, if I recall correctly, but it's been so long now that I don't trust myself to recall correctly. There were dips in the dirt road that we skirted because the previous night's rain had turned them into puddles. And the grass is always greener on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Anatolik complimented me on my appearance, and then denied that it was a compliment, claiming that it was only a description. Quite slick.

In the bus after lunch, we went rather quickly through a dip in the road -- the driver made up for each twenty-minute stall by going seventy miles an hour the rest of the time -- and Susanne hit her head rather hard. From what I could tell, she was lucky not to get a concussion. John was lucky, as were the rest of the people in the back bench seat. John just flew into Anatolik.

The bus took us to ... boats. About five people piled into each rowboat. I discovered that, though I stink to high heaven at actually rowing boats, I can steer! (The verb for "to steer" is rulit'.) In fact, the others in the boat actually complimented my steering ability. (Later, when I got back to the US and continued my automobile-driving lessons, I found that I'm much better at steering a rowboat rudder.)

By the way, various people were surprised that I can't swim. There was a different and partly overlapping set of people that was surprised that I can't ride a bike. But almost no one, I think, was shocked that I can't whistle. No one offered, in any case, to teach me to whistle, whereas I had offers galore to learn to bicycle and to swim.

In retrospect, it wasn't just a pleasant ride around canals and rivers and lakes. We actually arrived at some landing stage and then unexpectedly hiked for miles on this wooden path through the forest. (As in, one two-by-four after another, the skinny way.) The mosquitoes loved the fresh meat. They were, on his behalf, sucking out all the blood that Shylock wouldn't have been able to touch.

Our guide was the same person we'd had guide us through the monastery. (So there seemed to be one bus per island, and one guide per island. This paradigm also led me to joke during the trip, upon seeing some rather flirtatiously dressed woman, that she was the island's only whore, and that she was also the only cop, leading her to have to bribe or arrest herself -- doubly, since she was, in addition, the only pimp.) The Guide spoke English, we found out, especially when he led us through an impromptu course in Russian swearing. This began when one of our band exclaimed, regarding the mosquitoes, "Shit!" and our guide thoughtfully remarked, "Shit. Da." (A Russian curse word for "feces," he taught us, is blin. The mild and relatively inoffensive nature of this word was confirmed for me when I saw a birthday card, which I subsequently bought and gave to Casey on her birthday: Oi, blin! Opyat ya zabuil tvoi dyen rozhdenya! "Oh, crap! Again, I forgot your birthday!")


Katie's foot didn't much like the hike, and many of us grumbled on her behalf. In fact, I found myself developing a sympathy limp, to which John commented, "You'd better hope she never has a kid."

We saw many pretty views, and I smashed a bloodsucking insect and left a stain on my notebook page, and I'm sure we saw sites of historical and political importance, but at the end of the day -- literally -- it wasn't that fantastic a hike. What I really gained was an appreciation for the more annoying side of nature. As I wrote at the time, "What I'd give for DDT!"

We rowed back, of course. Sergei helped us somewhat, and discussion ensued, and and there was some disagreement over the number of relationships I can claim to be juggling. 3, or 2, or 1, perhaps. Well, it's even more complicated post-Russia, but that's the nature of things, no?

My boat only viewed this from afar -- mostly -- but there was a bit of a fight between two of the boats. Sure, my boat had participated in water fights with other boats -- that's how we lost one oar -- but we'd never graduated or stooped to the level of throwing moss. Carolyn, for one, scored two direct hits on Jon Stone. I saw one of them and it was a doozy. That high school shotput and discus really develops a girl's arms. When we all landed, Jon Stone charged over to the attacking boat and declared, "This is the Bad Boat! You don't get to talk to each other for the rest of the trip!" But he was laughing and everything turned out all camaraderie-like.

Before heading back to the bus, some of us took opportunities to buy foodstuffs at a kiosk -- a rarity on the Island of Three Stores (each of which is labelled something like Grocery # 2). I had no small bills, so I bought a lot to avoid being a troublemaker regarding change. I donated some water, juice, and chocolate to the kollektif.

On the bus, whilst stalled (of course):

Jon Stone: "They're fixing it."
Carolyn, laughing: "You said that with a straight face. Almost."

We had taken to calling the bus many things. The Beatles Bus, The Monkees Bus, the Partridge Family Bus, the Bus of Death, This F***ing Bus (latter two favored by John). I think the consensus view would later emerge that it was the Love Bus.

On the bus, whilst stalled again:
Jon Stone: "Tomorrow's bus excursion is to the highest point on the island." [followed by a bus full of prolonged, high laughter]

After dinner, I read from Lady Chatterley's Lover, though a lot of other people -- almost everyone, even Katie -- went to the banya. I did have a nice conversation with Joe, Gregg, Cara, and Erin. We discussed Jon Stone's merits and what it's legitimate to expect of an RD.

Me: "I don't want to buy into some false cult of authenticity that says, 'if you know what's happening next, it's not really Russia.'"
Me, to Joe and Gregg, regarding friends' names: "Bernadine?! And you make fun of Leonard?!"
Erin:"I love Sumana."

I went to sleep.


Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at