Tuesday, October 28, 2008

First Year Sculpture Class (Good ol Boys)

House is clean

Been here a month now. Got a temperpedic bed and loving it. 2x as expensive as in the states but I spend too much time on my feet and too little time horizontal for it to be anything but good sleep. We live across the street from school in a very spacious apartment. I have a large room as do Kaspar and Iliya and we also have a small eat in kitchen and a very large living room, which we use to entertain a little but mostly to work in. I draw and work on compositions (little mackets) Iliya and Kaspar paint and draw. It’s nice to work with others. We help each other a lot: giving ideas, reminding each other to get away from the work so as not to miss the obvious. I hope to finally begin to learn to model form with better hatch work and a better understanding of how light plays on the form. It’s very delicate work to find the hundreds of variations of tone within the light and then the multitude of shadows mixing with reflected light. The trick is in part to keep the darks and the lights separate. We all have a tendency to forget that the reflected light, say under the jaw on the neck, is in fact darker than the darkest part of the forehead. Anyway, my class consists of 14 guys and 1 girl. The girl is from Siberia and very sweet but quite insane. She recently shaved her head and looks a lot like a very skinny Sinead O’Connor. She has very bony features, which makes everyone want to draw her because the anatomy is so well defined on her. She also carries a gardner snake around and kisses it often. She works late into he evening with me in the studio and likes to listen to Radiohead. She asks me to translate but I often don’t understand the lyrics myself. She is helpful, keeping me informed of changes in our schedule and I like her ambition. She works hard and has tried to double all of our assignments. She burns out though and stays up all night only to miss a lot of class because she is so tired.

There is Andrey who is very kind and patient and knows English well enough. He is very centered and has learned sculpture from his parents. He’s not bad but not as good as he thinks. Our sculpture teacher is wonderful and comes consistently 3 times a week and stays for 2 hours helping each student. He has specific comments and I understand on average half of what he says – I miss a lot of specifics and sometimes loose the train but he speaks with his hands and face and brings an electricity to the room. He’s in his fifties with young bright eyes. I think he enjoys teaching. He is unusually open and supportive being sure to tell us what’s effective about our work before telling us what needs improvement often with a comforting hand on the student’s shoulder.

Our drawing teacher is very famous but hasn’t arrived at school because his mother is very sick. Instead we have a teacher who I sat in with last year so he knows me. He’s in his tale 30s or early 40s and very serious. He also gives good specific advice and is patient, drawing when I don’t understand what he’s trying to explain.

The other students are horrendous draftsmen. It’s strange. they are generally lakadaizical about their work. The whole department is this way- I don’t understand. They are always late to class and often hung over. There are a handful who are serious and I spend more time with them. There is one particularly irksome character form a small country village. He has dark hair a large square jaw and a physique born of physical labor. He also has a chip on his shoulder and is probably an alcoholic. He comes in hung over often in the morning and drunk in the evening. I ignore him and work with my headphones but have had to shout at him once when he was making fun of the Chinese student very loudly during class instead of working. They are all in their early 20’s except one guy who is 30 and who I can count on to keep everyone in line – Arkadi. He has a large brow hanging over small dark eyes and an unkempt scraggly beard. He is generally filthy but a good worker and very helpful I’m glad he’s in the class.

A mime is a terrible thing to waste.

So last year there was a model who I started to fancy. (This story doesn't end well just so you know.) I had painted and sculpted her at the academy 2 summers previously and we remembered each other. This was early on and I still didn’t know much Russian but I had been listening to language tapes and I knew how to say “why don’t you have dinner with me tonight?”. I found myself walking to school with her as we lived close to each other and she was very patient with my language - even buying a small dictionary for me after a couple of difficult conversations. So one morning I figured why not and I used my one Russian phrase, “She looked shocked” which I thought meant I had made a mistake but she told me she would love to and complimented my accent.

A few days later we met in the evening and she looked quite beautiful with makeup and a nice floral dress. She took me to a club and on the bus there I learned through the dictionary that she had been married but was divorced and she seemed very happy to be out. She kept using a word I couldn’t find in the dictionary that I later learned meant deserve. She felt that she deserved a night out on the town. I also learned that she had been a dancer during Soviet times but after Peraskroika like many people didn’t know how to find a job and was now modeling to help make ends meet. It was actually rather easy to understand her and it slowly dawned on me that her training was not just dancing but miming. She was a bit older than me I think and had very light blue eyes and high cheek bones with short blond hair that displayed the curve of her well formed skull which I had already spent countless hours trying to replicate in clay.

We got to the club and I tried talking over drinks. I told her I liked her blouse but mispronounced it. She laughed and blushed and showed me the word I had said which meant chest. I told her I liked that too. I asked if I could “write” on a scrap of paper she had but put the emphasis in the wrong place which changed my verb from “write” to “urinate” which she couldn’t stop repeating and giggling about. Having proven my willingness to humiliate myself in the name of communication we began dancing. Now the club was filled with people younger than both of us, scantily clad and drunk. They dance as they do everything, without subtlety. Halter tops are very high. There are a lot of bad mullets and overdone poorly coordinated dancemoves from an MTV video. I tried to focus on her. Her moves were well executed and practiced but somehow anything but sexy. She reminded me of an extra from a Eurythmics video but with a sense of humor she kept breaking into mini mime routines and then laughing. I laughed too but was beginning to be a little horrified. There was something very sad about her. Her eyes didn’t smile with her mouth, they remained languid and made her look ill at ease. I later asked her what she did when she wasn’t modeling and she said it was a secret, but I think she was a stripper. I began having nightmares about her as a marionette and decided I probably shouldn’t see her again but she kept SMSing me on the weekends and when I finally stopped replying she stopped showing up to class. Everyone was very angry with me because they hadn’t finished drawing/painting her and she just one day didn’t show up and never came back which I was blamed for – perhaps rightfully so.

From Russia with love

So on my way to Estonia. I try to avoid mishap. I buy my ticket 2 days in advance for the 7-hour bus ride. I ask the woman who doesn’t speak English to draw a little map to show me exactly where to catch the bus.

Two days later I arrive at 8:45 am. I’m nervous because I don’t see any bus that looks large enough to be mine, but after circling the area twice I see a group of people forming that look too happy to be Russian and sure enough I hear that elfin sing song of Estonian. I see one friendly looking young man with a cello case and ash him “to Estonia?” in Russian and he smiles and nods (Estonians speak Russian for the most part) – having been under Soviet rule until relatively recently). It’s the smile more than the nod that tells me I’m in the right place. It’s already cold but I don’t mind. I’m heading to Estonia to meet my new roommate Kaspar and his family there. I just found a new apartment in Saint Petersburg in remarkable time - 1 day and its across the street from the academy so I won’t be battling the swarms of commuters on the subway each day and will hopefully get some more sleep this year. Things are looking up and it’s actually sunny.

I get on the bus after some confusion with an old lady who doesn’t know where to go, where to sit, where to put her baggage etc. The bus driver is very kind and patient with her and the other passengers are too. I’m shocked but remind myself that these are not Russians. However the bus driver leaves and a new one who is Russian arrives with the familiar dour expression of resignation on his face. I settle into my seat and fall asleep. I awake 2 hours later as we pull into a gas station and suddenly remember 15 years earlier being on a bus in Spain and having the bus leave without me because I spent too long in the bathroom. I hesitate for a moment before deciding to leave the bus to buy something to eat. I follow the bus driver into the small convenience store and get shoved aside by a large gruff man who looks like a little kid who needs to go to the bathroom. He’s sort of hopping around from foot to foot looking feverishly at the baked goods and cutting everyone in line a clumsy rush for first dibs on the coffee. I see another young man sitting to eat his breakfast and figure we have more time than I thought. I decide to but one of each kind of baked goods because it’s a long ride and I can’t figure out what they all are anyway. In the corner of my eye I’m aware that the bus driver has left with a large bottle of water, but I still see the bus and the guy eating so I’m relaxed.

The woman gives me the wrong change and I ask her to check it again and she realizes her mistake and fixes it and I walk out side feeling good about my communication skills.

Adrenaline floods my system as I see a large empty parking spot where my bus used to be. I look left and see the bus pulling away and start running as fast as I can. I do a mental check and realize I have my passport but not my bag. Thank god I didn’t bring my computer. Then I try visualizing myself reaching the bus before it gets back on the highway, but it dawns on me as my legs begin to ache that I’m not going to catch it and suddenly I’m running top speed on the highway’s dirt shoulder screaming and waiving my arms frantically (somehow not dropping any baked goods). I start considering my plight with a useless out of range cell phone and I hear honking behind me but ignore it hoping for some response from the bus. It only accelerates onto the highway and speeds away. The honking continues persistently behind me and I realize I’m probably blocking traffic and risking my life. I look back and see a large black car pull up and the window roll down. The man asks me something in Russian that I think I understand and I say yes that’s my bus. He gestures for me to get in and I do. I catch my breath and he starts speeding up, passing car after car on this bumpy two lane high way that probably hasn’t been repaved since it was created. Despite the billions Russia is making on oil, like the US it’s government is not terribly interested in maintaining infrastructure.
The driver gestures for me to roll down the window and flag down the bus driver. As we pass the bus I see the bus driver’s blasé reaction to my frantic gesturing. He frowns and shrugs and pulls the bus over to the curb. I thank my driver think about offering him money but realize it might offend him. He smiles and I consider trying to tell him he’s an angel, but figure I showed just get to the bus as fast as possible. As I get on people look confused and the young man who was sitting next to me with the cello asks in English where I was and I explain. “Oh I was wondering where you were,” he explains.

As my heart rate returns to normal I remind myself that the man in the black car was Russian too and then promptly devour my flaky baked lunch.