Just some random notes this morning

There's a real stray dog problem in Russian cities; or, at least Moscow and Astrakhan. A lot of people even apparently let their dogs run loose. They're almost all large dogs. The small ones don't survive.

There's a real “man purse” problem, too. Many men have what amounts to a small purse that they carry by hand, not over the shoulder. People probably thought that's what my camera bag was when I was carrying it through airports.

We were watching television last night, even though there's absolutely nothing in English. Well, that's not quite accurate. There was a CSI rerun, but it was voiced-over in Russian. I wonder why they use dubbing instead of subtitles. I could almost watch and hear it normally, ignoring the subtitles, if they used them. Maybe they don't use subtitles because they don't want to assume that their audience is literate? I'm not saying they are illiterate, I'm just guessing the television stations think they are.

The entire town of Astrakhan is apparently under construction. We thought it was in preparation for next year's 150th anniversary of the city's founding, but apparently they're preparing now for the 450th anniversary that takes place in six years. Next year's is “only” the 444th anniversary.

Anyway, the Ministry of Education was under construction; to the point that their office inside the building was not even marked, adding just that much more to our experience. Our hotel is under construction, with scaffolding partially blocking our otherwise nice view of the Volga river. If you turn left coming out of the hotel and walk that way, even the riverfront is under construction though mostly finished. They haven't finished much of the riverfront in front of the hotel yet, but the rock breaker is out there on the levee every morning making sure that no one sleeps in. If you turn right coming out of the hotel and go less than a block, you're immediately in the slums. There are some scary and depressing neighborhoods between us and “downtown” Astrakhan, but that's like any big city.

Everyone stares at everyone here. It's not a stare-down. It's just that when they look at you, they're actually looking at you. But only for a second or two. It reminds me of L.A. where everyone checks everyone else out without being creepy or obnoxious. Of course, here in Russia, when they hear us or our interpreter speaking English, they look and listen.

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