It was early Saturday morning when we struck out for Chekhov’s estate, Melikhovo, 75km south of Moscow. We hit a great deal of dacha traffic on the way which delayed us considerably. Just as people from Maine head out to camp and Canadians visit their cottages, Muscovites head to their dachas (pronounced dat-cha). But let’s just say there’s a tad more traffic on a Russian highway than on Mt. Ephraim Road. In Russia, you cannot move a vehicle from the scene of an accident until authorities arrive so you can imagine the back up (hours…days?).

A country home typically situated on a generous plot of land, a dacha provides a refuge from city life. As the Russian pension is quite slim, retirees often turn their dachas into farmland, supplementing their pensions by growing vegetables and raising livestock to either sell or sustain themselves. The dacha traffic gave me time to do some research on Chekhov – the man, myth, and revered legend.

Born in 1860, Anton Chekhov had a difficult childhood plagued by an abusive father and financial instability. As a young man, while studying medicine at university, Chekhov took over financial responsibility for his entire family. To make ends meet, he wrote satirical short stories. After earning his degree as a physician, Chekhov contracted tuberculosis, which plagued him the rest of his life. He continued writing as it was more fruitful than practicing medicine (my how the times have changed…). His story, The Huntsman, was one of the first to gain him literary cred.

We raked leaves on the grounds in front of Chekhov’s home for a few hours to earn our admission ticket.


In 1892, Chekhov acquired Melikhovo with monetary help from his publisher. He soon became a staple of the countryside – helping to build roads, schools, and acting as the local physician. His services were so popular, in fact, that he would raise a flag to denote his availability as local peasants were known to show up on his doorstep as early at 5 o’clock in the morning. A skilled herbalist, Chekhov managed to keep the region rid of cholera as the epidemic swept through Russia in the late 1800s. He composed a number of works while at Melikhovo, including The Seagull. He retained the estate until 1897.

The kitchen adjoining the Chekhov residence. Note the intriguing tea kettle stove.

Finally out in the countryside, I was first struck by the birch trees. There are so many, stacking side by side, their white bark etched like chalk upon the dense forest. The green reads like the fields of Vermont and I felt instantly transported back there.

We spent a few hours raking leaves on the grounds, giving us time to enjoy the crisp autumn weather. The fresh air felt great and the gardens were simply beautiful. We were next treated to tea and hard sushki, which you might remember from the celebration upon our first arrival at school.

After watching a Chekhov play performed, we toured the grounds under the incredible translating efforts by one of my Russian colleagues, Lena. It was then I learned of Chekhov’s great efforts towards the area locals and his role as doctor-in-residence. By the end of the day, we were all tired and ready to pack it in for home. But I couldn’t help taking a minute on the porch to appreciate those blue-grey skies against the lush green grass. Fall in Russia is a gorgeous thing to behold.

A Russian samovar – literally “self-boil”.




Back in the saddle again

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Fresh off the plane, with my new coworkers Ellen and Shin.

At the end of my first week of school, I can honestly say that my new role suits. I’ve a great bunch of middle schoolers under my charge and an awesome schedule to boot. Morning classes are just one of the perks (why is art always left to the afternoon???). The kids seem really receptive and it’s just fun to be guiding a group in making art once again.

Back at Gorky Park to check out the Garage, a museum of modern and contemporary art.

Tuesday was our first day of school and the school held an Opening Ceremony at the end of the school day, replete with a bell-ringing to usher in the new school year. Perhaps most notable was the Ceremony of Flags, in which the flags representing the home countries of all students are paraded in. The list was read for a good 10 minutes – our students must represent over 65 nationalities. I wish I knew the actual number but I can tell you that in just one of my classes, of the 17 students enrolled, 13 are from different countries. The countries vary from Italy to Oman. What that kind of diversity can do if channeled properly is pretty awesome for a teacher who gets to live it.

The chair on the left was fashioned out of foam to look as if it is clay ~ functional and comfortable.

I shared this video with some of you when I first accepted my new job but if you’d like to see what my campus look like and hear a little about the school, feel free to take a look. The Flag Ceremony I refer to can be seen around 0:45. Clearly it’s marketing but I will say that it has thus far lived up to the hype.

Neon art a la Bruce Nauman.

There is another much more serious difference between my old school in Seoul and this new one in Moscow. It’s something I feel very strongly influences the entire culture of the school. If it’s absent, good luck making any strides. If it’s present, the opportunities are endless. I’m talking about sleep.

Digitally printed photograph of paint – though you’d never know it.

Never did I realize how important sleep was until I moved to Asia. You know how people say New York City is the city that never sleeps? Well, I think they could insert Seoul if they really wanted to be honest. When I first moved to Seoul, I had myself half-convinced that sleep wasn’t necessary, getting by on 5 hours a night. Not only did I burn out, I feel like I actually became a zombie. Part of it was a natural high of living in a new, exciting place. Part of it was the fact that those around me didn’t sleep much. In fact, they bragged about how little sleep they got.

Thrilled to discover that the Garage holds summer film screenings on its roof. The list includes a number of my favorites and I hope to get to one before the season ends this week.

To pull an all-nighter was a badge of honor for many. Some of my students told me their parents would encourage them to stay awake until the wee hours of the morning if they wanted to prove their dedication to their studies. My kids would email me about assignments at 3, 4, 5am in the morning. Korean coworkers regularly went to midnight movies with their spouses, bringing their children who would quickly pass out and sleep, and enjoying a date night (or morning?). It was surprising to see families with young children out playing in the park as I walked home at 11pm. Sure, it was the Land of the Morning Calm, but perhaps mornings were the only time anyone found to sleep.

While it’s only been a week here in Moscow, I see the evidence of the positive effects of sleep on my students’ faces. They’re more engaged, emotionally and physically, and it seems they’re able to be kids, pure and simple. It makes me so happy to know the majority of these kids are allowed to go home after school, eat dinner, and go to sleep at a (fairly) reasonable time. There are exceptions, of course – and video gaming to contend with these days – but boy does it make a difference to me as a teacher.

As I sign off at the end of fulfilling first week, I’m again thankful for this opportunity that I’ve been given and excited to go exploring once again in my new city. I’ll leave you with a quote from the Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. He had the following to say, translated from his native German.

Ah, the knowledge of impermanence
that haunts our days
is their very fragrance.

I think he was onto something.