Just One More Blini, Please!

Written by Annie Mesavage, Junior at Penn State

Aaron, Stephen and Annie Enjoy Blini
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Aaron Ladd, Stephan Ratasky, and Annie Mesavage eating pancakes at the Festival

The cobblestone street of Red Square has seen a lot of history. It once was the marching ground for the Soviet Union’s military. It has seen the construction of Russia’s most famous sight, St. Basil’s Cathedral under rule of Ivan the Terrible. Today, it even houses Lenin’s mausoleum where his embalmed body can be seen by tourists. But on this past Sunday, March 9th, it was the witness of something even more profound: several hungry, unsuspecting American college students who just wanted a “Russian pancake” or blini. Why on this day? This food is the most popular associated with the Russian holiday Maslenitsa, celebrated each year during a Sunday in March.

Maslenitsa Sign
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Maslenitsa Sign

Maslenitsa was originally a holiday of the equinox. The pancakes were meant to symbolize the shape of the sun. It occurs the week before the Russian Orthodox celebration of Lent and thus is a day when people ask for forgiveness from past sins before going into the Easter season. It is a very cheerful holiday as it represents the ending of winter and the beginning of spring. A large straw doll, symbolizing winter, is typically burnt as an attraction. People cumulate throughout Red Square and around Alexander Gardens outside of the Kremlin walls. Maslenitsa is also the day after women’s day celebrated this year on March the 8th. This is a special day where men often buy wives or loved ones flowers and other gifts.

This year we were taken to these festivities by two of our fellow Russian students, Dmitry and Alexander as well as their mother and other friend. We all walked around the Kremlin and took in the sights of Red Square. People bustled around with figurines of the small straw dolls and bouquets of flowers. Others ice skated on the square’s large rink or listened to singing. Later in the afternoon, we walked to the main celebration where thousands of people waited in lines to get blinis filled with caviar, sour cream, or fruit. Traditionally meat was not eaten for Maslenitsa. Yet, today the Russian shashlik, a kind of kabob is just as popular as blinis. Besides the food, there was also a live stage where dance and theatrical groups performed and sang many traditional folk songs. There were also numerous carnival game booths.

Bridge at Festival
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With the festival they closed the bridge that went over the Moscow River, so you can see the festival, crowd and St Basils cathedral in the background

Before returning home, we walked across the large highway bridge overlooking the Moscow River (minus the crazy European drivers) as it is closed to traffic for the festival. There we could take photographs with government buildings and cathedrals of the city in the background.

Yes we did get a taste for some of those Russian pancakes but also for more culture. The snow has melted here and the days are longer and sunnier. The effects of Maslenitsa are in full swing!

Also in this Issue...

  • Weekend Excursion to the Timirazevskaya Region by Becky Dunmyer
    "I have always enjoyed saunas but this was my first banya experience. I loved it. I never knew that being beaten with tree branches, running towel-clad through the snow, and dumping buckets of water on myself could be so much fun. The banya will certainly be one of my favorite memories of Russia."
  • Where We Are: (a.k.a.) Moscow State
    Agro-Engineering University
    by Ben Crooke

    "Our host university here in Russia is Moscow State Agro-engineering University (MSAU), located in northern Moscow. This university started about 200 years ago and was originally called Peter’s Agricultural Academy, named after Peter the Great."
  • Stuff from the Buff by Marina Besedina
    "This was a two- part lecture with the first part being in the classroom discussing the world market for mushrooms and who are the leading producers and the second part seeing a farm first-hand."

Where We Are: (a.k.a.) Moscow State
Agro-Engineering University

Written by Ben Crooke, Freshman at Penn State

MSAU Administration Building
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Administrative Building on the MSAU Campus

In case any of our fabulous readers out there have been wondering where we are staying, let me enlighten you. Our host university here in Russia is Moscow State Agro-engineering University (MSAU), located in northern Moscow. This university started about 200 years ago and was originally called Peter’s Agricultural Academy, named after Peter the Great. Student enrollment here is approximately 15,000 students in 25 different majors in five colleges, ranging from English to Mechanical Engineering. Most of the students I have talked to have a minor or double major to diversify their skills and resume. MSAU shares its campus with three other universities and altogether the student body between these four universities is about 70,000 students. While we live in a high-rise hostel, similar to a dormitory at an American university, many students living in the Moscow Region commute to school everyday.  One main road runs the length of campus and is only for pedestrians. On a weekday this road is swarming with students going to and fro from classes. It reminds me of a very similar road running the length of campus at Penn State.

Technical Services Picture
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Stone mural located in the entrance of the Technical Service Building

In addition to administrative and academic buildings, there are several gymnasiums, a swimming pool, outdoor track, and several small dining halls. While grey squirrels and cottontails dominate Penn State’s campus, MSAU’s dominate species are crows, pigeons, and urban wolf packs (stray dogs).

Classroom Building
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Classroom Building where mechanical classes are taught

Despite the wildlife, a walk across campus reassures my academic conscience that I am indeed in a learning environment with eager students bustling about. For two months we have lived very well at a distinguished learning institution and we look forward to another two months of learning and fellowship with our Russian friends.

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