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Download this App: SLMMSK

As you can probably see, I’ve redone the blog a little. I felt it needed some freshening up and I missed a good sidebar. Anyway, onto the good stuff…

A quick note for future Friday shenanigans: try out this new SLMMSK app (for iPhone and Android).

I was really excited to see the release of the anti-selfie app for Android several days ago; I’d been reading about it online as iPhone users posted their strange photos online from the mysterious app by Glitché. Called SLMMSK, the app takes a typical selfie and distorts it into something equally interesting and creepy. There are ten different filter options ranging from emoticons to blurs to censor bars, as well as a CCTV-style grain and timestamp on the photo. SLMMSK is being marketed as an alternative to the over-indulgent selfie culture and as a critique of surveillance society. All in all it’s bound to be something that’s interesting to artsy, hipstery folk.

Overall, I thought it was pretty neat although not necessarily an app I’ll be using every day. Also (I can’t comment for the iPhone) but the Android version is pretty slow and crashes occasionally, but works just fine for the most part.
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Russy + 4 leaf clover

Russian Superstitions: Four-Leaf Clover

I love my husband a lot even though sometimes we forget that we’re married and he’s basically an extremely tall five-year-old. Also, we’ve gotten to the point where occasionally it slips our minds that we’re both foreigners to each other so when something really culturally bizarre pops up, we’re doubly surprised. Here’s a quick story about one of the Russian superstitions that caught me by surprise.

This particular incident happened during our month-long stint at my parent’s house in America. We have a good-sized front and back lawn which I’m always more than happy to enjoy when I’m home from life in the big, lawn-less city of Moscow. During our America month we spent a lot of time outside when it wasn’t too unbearably hot.

One such day, we went out only to be repelled almost immediately by the classic sticky heat of a Virginia summer. We quickly decided to cancel our outdoor lounging plans and retreat back into the air conditioning. I was heading into the front door with the Russky trailing behind, eyes to the ground in search of an elusive four-leaf clover. If there is grass, you better believe that he is paying more attention to his search for a four-leaf clover than anything you might be saying.

Hand on the doorknob, a victorious cry caused me to spin around. I came face-to-face with a four leaf clover, wilted from the heat but nonetheless very much lucky. ‘I finally found one!’ he crowed proudly. I’ll admit I was a bit surprised – the sheer number of clover popping up on our sprawling lawn made the chances quite minuscule. I congratulated him and prepared to grab a large book to press and the clover into a keepsake.

However, there wasn’t even enough time for that.

Immediately after the proclamation came an event that made me 1000% sure I do not want a child any time soon. Children (those sticky, messy little creatures) are prone to danger thanks to poor motor function, undeveloped brains, and, yes, sticking any and everything in their mouths. The Russky, my very own overgrown man-child, was no exception. After a cursory glance at the verdant little miracle it went straight towards his mouth. As swiftly as any mother might, I slapped the four-leaf clover away from him in shock. ‘What the hell are you doing?!’

He looked at me, offended. ‘I have to eat it. Or I’ll lose the luck.’

Alright, share: what’s your weird superstition that would cause others to look at you like you’re a lunatic?

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Travel Dreaming: Pyatino’s Trinity Church

(All photos in this post are by av_otus)

Do you ever come across something online that you just have to see? I hear this a lot in relation to Pinterest, although I don’t quite get it as I use Pinterest as a necessary evil, rather than something that strikes me as fun. Regardless of my (lack of) love for Pinterest, the phenomenon of finding amazing travel discovery online happens to me all the time as it’s basically my job to be on the web looking for interesting things to share. Also, I’m easily swayed by a pretty picture and a small hint of adventure.
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a day in the life

My Day: Writing a Guidebook

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As some of you caught in a previous post, I am indeed writing a guidebook. As a surprise to no one, it will be all about the fair city of Moskva. While there are many guidebooks out which are far superior, I hope to add some things that other guidebooks miss when their authors have only spent a few weeks in the city. This is not a self-published deal: I was hired by a small but seemingly well-established guide publisher to produce one for them. To be honest, I’ve long considered the self-publishing route but know I don’t have the self-discipline to finish or ability to sell my brand in a way that would make the whole thing worth it.

A bit about this deal: yes, I will finish the book because I have actually signed a contract! Also I’ve received a (very) small advance that is now very much mine and I have no intention of giving it back. I was initially hesitant to go ahead with the project as the money-time ratio is very obviously skewed in the wrong direction. However, I ultimately took it as a way to practice my self-discipline, find out if producing a book is something I’d like to continue to do, and – what really swayed my decision – I’ll have my name on a book. Yup, this is not just a guide to Moscow by ____ Publishing co. It’s officially and forever by Polly Barks. So that’s basically the coolest thing ever.
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Pavilion of VDNKh

VDNKh [and a live chat!]

We recently spent a day wandering around the weirdness that is VDNKh (AKA Soviet Disneyland). The sprawling complex holds pavilions in honor of the former parts of the USSR (now turned into weird, labyrinthine shopping centers), a mildly terrifying amusement park, and plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating. It’s a strange, fantastical place to wander around and have a bit of medovukha – honey mead. With a bit of sun still left in Moscow’s summer, it’s the perfect place to while away a few hours.

Dom Sovetov VDNKh

Ukraine Pavilion VDNKh
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[Moscow Day Trip] Sergiev Posad

Moscow’s unseasonably chilly weather over the last few days has incited a weird, frenetic yearning for winter. The heat and stuffiness of the city in summer really gets me down so I’ve been feeling a little anxious and overwrought lately. I’m going to blame it on my reverse SAD (seasonal affective disorder) – as soon as the air cooled off I felt like I could breathe easier. Never underestimate the therapeutic nature of putting on a cashmere sweater, my friends. Sorry to all you summer-lovers out there, but I’m anxiously awaiting winter. Sure the constant cold gets you down after a while, but I’d take a frozen nose and winter coat over sunburns and shorts any day.

Anyway, all of this has gotten me thinking about some of the lovely adventures I’ve had over the years during the long, long winter months.
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Elektrichka

Moscow Moments [Part V]: Kindness

This is part five of my indefinite series called “Moscow Moments”: part writing exercise, part an attempt to remember my time living in Moscow. You can check out the previous installments here:

Part 1: An indifferent proposal
Part 2: A Russian Halloween
Part 3: Dead Bodies
Part 4: Marshrutka Adventures

Kindness

It’s hard to feel excited about being in Moscow when you’re living outside of it in the oblast. Not only does the physical landscape make you feel like you’re in another world entirely, but the constant crush of humanity pressing in and out of the city makes Moscow center seem a million miles away. Every commute becomes an immense feat of mental strength – or some sort of insanity. After all if you’re already found your future husband on your cramped, sweaty commute, there’s not much more to be had from the beastly machines that make up Moscow public transport.

Unfortunately there’s work to be done so… we trudge on.

One day recently the Russky and I headed into the city together. Let’s just say it wasn’t a very good time. The political news is becoming more and more disastrous, meetings aren’t as fruitful as hoped, and it’s just too damn hot to be pressed intimately against anyone – much less a complete stranger. Suffice to say the two-hour commute into the city hadn’t felt worth it and the way back seemed even more impossible to contemplate.
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lal launch

Like a Local is Live!

Yes, it’s finally that time – Like a Local Issue One: Moscow is finally up and ready to go! We decided to host the magazine on Issuu so the magazine can be found there or, of course, on the Like a Local website.

Thank you all so much for your support so far – we hope enjoy :) Enjoy!


ONWARD TO ISSUE ONE!

PS. A print-on-demand option will be available in a few days if you’re interested in purchasing a hard-copy. Stay tuned!

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The Real Russia

One of the first things you’ll inevitably hear when traveling to Russia is the phrase “there are two Russias: Moscow… and the real Russia”. Depending on who you talk to, this may be delivered with a typical Muscovite’s pride or a very different, disillusioned grimace. No matter the tone, it’s absolutely true.

Moscow with its wide streets, (relatively) western sensibilities, and new skyscrapers is nothing one could really call Russia. Maybe Russia on cocaine. Maybe Europe-lite. Decades of intense centralization has ensured that Moscow is a glittering, vibrantly prosperous city while, aside from a very few exceptions, the rest of the country remains lost in decades past. Saint Petersburg and other smaller cities provide a certain old-world, aristocratic charm but fulfil few 21st century city expectations. Beyond those few…

The most frightening thing about the massive chasm between Moscow and the other is how quickly the real thing emerges. The sharp divide makes it impossible to hide the country’s dangerous, untenable reliance on the singular behemoth that is Moscow. Go fifty – hell, twenty-five – kilometers outside of Moscow and all the sudden you’re in a different world. Idyllic fields and dark pine forests. Wooden houses with modest fences and wild gardens. No indoor plumbing. No way to survive except making the pilgrimage to Moscow. While the decay is in some ways magnificently romantic, it’s also difficult to imagine how living through Russian winters in these places aren’t an automatic death sentence.
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A girl and her writing process

Anna from Home and Away tagged me in this quick-fire round of writing about… writing. It’s simple: just three questions. I want to tag Katrinka from Katrinka Abroad because not only does she write some amazing prose, but her photos are phenomenal as well!

What am I working on?
Since I quit my job as an ESL teacher I have an amazing amount of time to write all of the things. Seriously, I think most of my day is either spent writing or worrying about things I haven’t yet written. As you all probably know from my shameless plugs, my newest venture Like a Local Mag is going live in about a week! Thankfully that means I’m done with the writing/editing process of that, but now I’m writing a ton of press releases and other pieces to get the word out. I’m also updating this blog 2 or 3 times a week which takes some time. Oh yeah, and I’m writing a Moscow guidebook. Yup. That one came kind of flying out of the blue, but I’ve got a publisher and a (small) advance. More on that to come once I stop freaking out about getting it done.

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How does my blog differ from others in its genre?
That’s not too hard. Most ESL teachers or expats who move to Russia only live in a country for about a year. After that year their blog falls to the wayside and you rarely hear from them again. I’ve been blogging for four years (not always on this particular blog, but nonetheless) so I feel like I have a really good handle on living abroad, navigating Russia/Moscow as an expat, and generally doling out more useful advice than someone who just comes to party for an academic year.

Additionally I’m part of the elite group of American women who married Russian men; usually it’s the opposite. I think the many search terms of ‘omg how do I date a Russian dude’ prove I’m providing (kind of) useful information that not a lot of other bloggers can comment on.

Why do I write what I do?
In some form or another, I’ve always written so I think a blog is a natural extension of my natural urge to write and the newer desire to impart my vast knowledge on the world. More seriously though, I’ve always wanted to portray a realistic version of life in Moscow as an expat: not as a nine-month party-er or a uber-fancy businessman. Just as a normal person. It’s easy to get caught up in what you read in the newspaper and think of a certain city or country in a particularly way so I think blogging here is a great way to sort out my own thoughts and provide a different context for people who don’t live here. That doesn’t mean I’m only focusing on the positives. As news from Russia gets worse and worse (and conditions here get stranger and more difficult), I want to tell everyone exactly what’s going on.

For example:
No, I’m not being threatened in any way because of my nationality.
Yes, my cards have begun to be declined in stores.
No, I’m not leaving Russia. (Yet.)
Yes,I think the situation is terrible and Russia absolutely made the wrong decision in dealing with the Ukraine and sanction situations.

I write my day-to-day life and impressions here because I want you all to know: sometimes Russia’s great and sometimes Russia’s really shitty. Just like everywhere else.

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