Thursday, October 25, 2012

A whirlwind trip to the Big City: Part 1: The Moscow Science Fesitval

Moscow Science Festival 2012
Close to the time we were to leave for Russia and Gorno, I got a note asking if I would come to Moscow in October for the Fulbright in-Country orientation, and also if I would be so kind as to present at the Moscow Science Festival that same weekend.  My girls would be taken care of, we would stay some extra days, and Oksana (the wonder woman) would arrange our hotel and travel.  Ummmmm, let me think..... ? YES!!!!!
So our long weekend in Moscow began on Thursday October 11th  and lasted until Monday night, October 15, with a nasty bit of
 travel on each end, but who's counting:-).  The building below is one of the loveliest college campus buildings in the world, Im sure.  In Moscow there are 7 Stalin houses.  This is one of them. Stalin had them built on the 7 hills of Moscow, as I understand it and I'm not really sure of their original purpose, but I do believe they were for living in.  Long story short, this one became one of the main buildings of the Moscow State University.  The young woman with me in the picture in front of the building is Natalia (one of the many I now know) a Moscow State University language student assigned to me during our stay. Sweet, smart, and extremely diligent! Camilla, not pictured, was the other amazing student who took care of my girls while I was in meetings (thank you girls and Olga for making it happen!)
We were lucky to get to go to the very top of this building for a tour of the Natural History Museum of the University (floors 24 through 28) and then up a couple more floors to that round part you see on the very top.  Going into one of these buildings just happened to be one of the things on my daughters wish lists when I made them research moscow before we went ( I am their teacher this semester you know). Little did we know at that time that we were destined for one already!
 The round room with the columns is the top of this building.  It has great accoustics we were told by the Museum Director, and lectures and music events were held there often.  Around the walls were tributes to all the University Presidents from the very initiation (an apparently late starting self taught man who was hungry for knowledge and just about a genius in many fields) to the current president who was loath to have his tribute added, but his adoring faculty insisted. 

 The room actually extends up two floors and there is a balcony, which we went up to, and above that this incredible, specially made glass star (there was a cool story about the chemical composition of the glass that gave it the color... one of the presidents invented..... but I cant remember!)

Below is the view from as high up as you can go.. It was awsome.  Moscow is twice the size of New York City they say. It was cold and windy up there, but that didnt bother me.  It was one of those surreal experiences for me.
 I was invited to pose with the bust of Lenin.  Lenin is everywhere in Russia including all siberian towns I have been in.  I thought at first it might be some sort of dessicration but was assured it was not and so I kissed the man on his forehead.... I didnt include that image, just in case:-)

 At 1:30 I was scheduled to give a talk on the "Importance of Research in Undergraduate Education: Paul Smiths College, College of the Adirondacks" .  The audience were high school students from all over the City, and their parents, teachers, and some univeristy students interested in international science opportunities.
 I had a translator and so things took longer than they would otherwise, but the talk was scheduled for 45 minutes and by breezing over a couple things, I was able to make it. 

Olga (another Russian wonder woman) the festival organizer and the one who invited me to speak, presented me with her own amazing book on the architecture of Moscow that was influenced by Stalin... Its gorgeous and all in Russian, of course, so no excuse now not to keep learning the language (which I am more and more fascinated by).  She also made sure that I had the opportunity to meet with a Dean in the Biology Department and that we could all discuss our mutual interests in international exchange (Ochen Preetna, Andrey!).  Exciting stuff.

 Olga also found out that I was a singer songwriter and had visited my web site and liked it very much. Since much of my stuff is inspired by the Adirondacks she asked me If I would perform at the end of my talk and at the closing ceremony of the festival on Sunday Eve.. Bonus. Im just saying

After my talk I had an hour break and then was honored to be on a panel of academics talking about the role of scientist and academics in the information age.  Natalia and I showed up at the room, sat down and little did she know ahead of time that she would be asked to help me understand the discussion.  She did an amazing job for someone not trained as a translator.  We sat there with her small computer open and her english russian dictionary up on the screen.. She listened , madly wrote notes and then tried to explain the conversation.. At some point I was asked to stand and make my comments.. which I did, only because Natalia had done a great job of summarizing the things the other folks had shared.  I think it went well.  Who knows who understood me, though I spoke plainly and not so fast (ne tak boeestra)

 I was one of many acts at the closing ceremony, including barbershop quartet, opera singing, ballet dancing, Russian traditional songs.... .....I got some really nice feedback from young and older people. Im pretty sure that this was the first and probably the last time I will perform and be projected onto a big screen!  All of these performances were punctuated by the real reason we were there.. Student received awards for their work in science and related fields and were brought out on the stage and interviewed and given prizes.  It was an amazing festival. I was honored to be a part of it. Thanks for letting me relive it a bit here and make it a bit less surreal for the reflection.

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