Thursday, November 20, 2008

Novosibirsk November 20

Novosibirsk November 20, 2008

Today was worth everything it took to get here. Worth all of the back and forth with NSU regarding timing, course content (actually, they gave me free reign), letter of invitation, visa application, course prep, carving out time in the schedule, traveling so far to a place most people can’t pronounce (much less know where it is), living in accommodations unlike any since I was in college, freezing, slipping on ice, trying to find vegetarian food, trying to exchange money, failing miserably while trying to explain what I wanted to order. Did I forget anything?

Today was worth it because it is the reason we do this: to see the excitement and feel the passion these students exhibit when they are learning and doing something they like. This class was simply amazing. We took 19 students with no training in the law, most of whom didn’t have plans to be lawyers, gave them some tools to try something they had never done before, and watched with joy and pride as these students “tried” a case. It is all on video, you can watch it yourself.

Everyone had prepared his or her assignment with great care. There were some students who were very nervous, but they got up and did it. The student who played the part of the “victim”, I swear, is a natural actress. She knew the facts cold. The students who did the opening did it by the rules: no argument, just facts. The direct examiners asked the “who, what, when, where” with precision. The cross-examiners asked leading questions! Do you know how many times I done trial advocacy teaching, with third year lawyers, and never hear a leading question on cross? The student who played the photographer had drawn excellent depictions of what the photos would have shown, and knew how to explain each part of them. The student who did the closing weaved the law into the facts just like we had talked about. It was truly a wonderful experience to watch these young people as they tried their hardest to convince the jury (there were 11 of them) as to the merits of their positions. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

Once the “trial” was over, I re-read some of the jury instructions just to make sure they applied the law. The jury was allowed to deliberate for fifteen minutes. After twenty minutes, the foreperson came out and asked if the witnesses could come inside to answer a few questions. This not being the real thing, I allowed it. The jury didn’t want the lawyers to hear the questions, but I explained that in a real trial, the lawyers would have to be present. That being said, the jurors asked many questions that the lawyers didn’t ask. I pointed out that in most cases if a lawyer didn’t ask a question, the answer would be unknown (unless the judge allowed juror questions). After we answered their questions, we went back outside. I commented to all of them standing in the hallway that this was the worst part of the trial: waiting for the verdict. I asked one of the defense lawyers how he felt. “Nervous,” he said. Just like a real lawyer.

As we were waiting, one of the students said, “I can’t believe it’s taking them so long. This is a simple case.” I asked her why she felt that way. She said the defendant was clearly guilty. In quick response to that, another student said, “Oh no, he’s clearly not guilty.”

Just then, the foreperson came to the door and let us back in. I asked if the jury had reached a verdict. They said no, it was not unanimous. I had told them previously that it was alright if they came back hung. I then told them that it is not proper to ask anything further, nor to ask jurors about their deliberations. But, since we had already broken a rule, it was okay to break another one. They said it was 10 to 1 for conviction! The holdout was the foreperson. I asked them if they had seen the Russian version of “Twelve Angry Men” (“Twelve” here). They all had, and commented that it was the exact split as in the movie, but here things stayed the same. I told them that the defense comes away with a win, because the defendant is still presumed innocent and not convicted of anything. The jury foreperson then did the “Kirk Gibson” pump with her arm.

We talked for a little while about how hard it is to come to these types of decisions, and what they thought of the jury system. Those who spoke favored it. No one expressed any negative sentiments about the jury system.

It was time to end the class, so I told them I had one more gift for them, and they all got excited again. This time, I gave them FSU lanyards with detachable key rings. No one other than MY students has one, so they could wear it with distinction. I was given gifts as well: a beautiful jewelry box, some literature from the University, and a great t-shirt. Because I don’t have many t-shirts.

My closing comments were from the heart. I have done this three times. This group was the best, the absolute best. Maybe it was because it was such a different type of class for them, and they really jumped into it. But I told them how proud I was of them for even taking the class, because they didn’t have to; it was an optional class. I told them how impressed I was with their enthusiasm, their intellectual curiosity, and their devotion to learning. And I told them that the reason I do this, my reason alone, is to help them learn a little something about America, from an American, and to for me to learn as much as I can about them and their country. In that regard, this trip was an unqualified success. I’m not sure that at this point I can articulate that in any more detail, because this just ended, and I need time for this to sink in. But more than anything, as I told them, we are all on this planet together, and we have to make the effort to know more about the world than what is outside our front door. I told them we have to communicate with each other, for only by doing so can we live peacefully. To that, there was unanimous agreement.

We Senior Lawyers don’t come to preach. We come to teach. We come to learn. We come to see the future leaders of these various countries. It is my firm conviction that this group of young people, nineteen men and women from Novosibirsk, Russia, in Siberia, which most people immediately think of as a cold and barren place, will be leaders in their country. Far from being a desolate wasteland, Siberia, to me, is a dynamic and forward-looking region, and I wouldn’t be surprised to read about one of these wonderful people playing a role in their country’s affairs, and I will get to say: “That was a student of mine.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Novosibirsk November 19

These photos (there are two stitched together) are the holes created by the stilleto heels worn by the women here. I was walking with someone today and mentioned how incredible I found it that the women can wear those heels and still walk on the ice. She agreed to some extent. She was wearing lower heels, but heels nonetheless. I proffered my theory that the heels act as stabilizers. She said "That's right." I WAS right. Such a lucky guess.

There is a Minerals Museum here, in the same building as the Geology Institute, I think. It is not a museum in the sense that hordes of people pay money to gain admittance. Private tours need to be arranged, in advance. Almira set up one such tour for me today. Siberia sits on a ton of oil, which gets exported to Europe. It is also the home of a large quantity and variety of mineral resources. This was demonstrated to me by the geologist who took me on the tour. She is not a professional guide. She spent twenty years in a remote part of Russia after graduating from University, doing geological work. With great care, and with great pride, she led me around and showed me the tremendous collection of rocks, diamonds, crystals, stones and meteorites (yes, meteorites) in the museum ( I was reminded of an "X Files" episode which took place in Siberia: I think "Tunguska" was the name of the episode, which had something to do with the presence of aliens on earth, although there were many explanations offered during the series).

What does every self-respecting museum have? A gift shop. And this museum was no exception. There was a vast collection of jewelry made of stones only found in Siberia. I'm not saying that I bought anything for anybody, but it was hard to resist.

Today was also the day to run, as in jog. My blogging buddy Luc from Ohio told me about it, and there was no way I was leaving Siberia without running here. I even bought running tights and a bacalava, thingking it would be about 10 degrees colder than it has been. But I got dressed and hit the ice. ( See photo(s) of garb - I haven't gotten the posting of photos down yet). It wasn't too bad. I didn't run that far, but the cold crisp air is certainly different hitting your face and lungs than the wet stuff that I encounter in Florida (even if I do run on a treadmill indoors). I expected quizzical looks from the people I encountered, but no one even paid a second glance. Which is interesting because I haven't seen ANYBODY running here.
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There isn't much else to report. For those really interested in the housing units so many people live in here, posted is a video of how I get into the flat. There are a lot of doors.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Novosibirsk November 18

Novosibirsk November 18, 2008

A special request has been made to photograph the pencil-size holes in the ice and snow made by the stiletto heels. You don’t believe me, Diane? (Get well soon). (It's not letting me put those photos on the blog. I'll have to try tomorrow).

It is 1:44 pm and I am just putting a few things down before going to class. I am meeting a student early to show her the web site regarding law schools in the US and their entrance requirements. I’m looking forward to today’s class because: 1) we haven’t had class in 4 days and 2) today we get to talk about how they are going to do the trial. It will be interesting to see how many students want to be lawyers. I need ten. I also intend to tell them that I will be video recording their efforts, for those who want it. I can bring the discs back with me and make copies to send to Almira, who can hopefully provide them to the students.

Two brief notes. I am becoming more comfortable ordering my cappuccinos at the café. Big deal. Everyone understands “cappuccino”, but do they understand “another?” Yes, if I go to the Russian-English dictionary and show the word to the server. I guess that doesn’t really qualify as un-aided ordering at the café. I’m still lost.

Second, the internet connection is strange. I paid good money yesterday to ensure that I would be able to have a connection from the flat. It worked fine last night and this morning. But I just turned it on and got a “page load error” message. That usually means there is no connection. I then tried a different site, and it connected. I’m supposed to connect through NSUNet, and when I tried, it said what it had said over the weekend: “cannot connect to server”, which means I’m over my limit. I’m trying to connect now, and it’s slow. But it connected.

8:02 pm

Today was a marvelous day. The weather was beautiful, and the washing machine worked. I now have enough clean laundry to get me home.

But the day was really made wonderful by two facts. First, we had a really good class. There were three segments: conclusion of our discussion of the stages of a criminal trial; legal education and the practice of law, including the Oath of Attorney new Florida Bar members must swear to, and legal advertising; and finally, the nuts and bolts of the factual pattern I gave them, as well as the jury instructions. I’ve been advised by some of my colleagues that students don’t prepare. These students have: they have read the case and the law. They asked very good questions about trial strategy, including some I hadn’t thought of. For instance, one of the students commented that a defendant’s testimony would be self-serving, and wouldn’t it be better if the defense presented other witnesses to corroborate the defendant’s testimony? Another asked if it was good strategy to ignore facts that are unfavorable for your side, or address them and try to explain them. This was high-level thinking for this age group, but you know what? I am constantly impressed with how smart these foreign (to me) students are. It is what keeps me returning to the CILS program, even though logistically it is difficult. I have great faith in the ability of young people to think, and when I see the results, as I did today, it is gratifying. If I could only be a law professor . . .

I asked them what facts were good for the prosecution and which were good for the defense. By answering those questions, they showed me they had read AND understood the material. We did a modified limited Socratic session, and it was evident that these students have excellent logical thinking abilities. Some of them want to go to law school in the US. Prior to class, I met with two students who have that interest, and showed them how to access information regarding the law schools in the US, and entry requirements and costs. There is a web site ( that gives the probability of admission based solely on LSAT scores, and GPA’s. When we talked about GPA’s (there is something equivalent here), one of the students said: “But that is something that can’t be changed now.” I encouraged her to select five to ten schools that her scores and GPA were on a par with the most recent entering class, and a couple of reach schools. There have to be quality law schools that would LOVE to have Russian students. That’s what this whole big CILS concept is about, to me: communication leads to understanding leads to cooperation. We ought to encourage law schools to accept students from Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine and all other Eastern European and former Soviet republics.

The second great thing about today was that THE PACKAGE ARRIVED. It only took 4 weeks to get here, but Almira went to the post office today and brought it class. I had felt bad that I might not be here to give the t-shirts and calendars to the students (we actually gained 4 students from last week). But when I opened up the box and started passing the national parks and American coastline calendars out, they were very excited. And then when I pulled out the t-shirts, they went nuts. There were all different kinds, from USA flags, to Florida beaches, to Florida palm trees, and a couple of t-shirts promoting the Leopard operating system from Apple. The Apple t-shirts have a big X on the front. When I pulled those out, two people said “X Files!”. I loved it. They knew one of my all-time favorite TV shows. They weren’t at all disappointed when they saw they were Leopard t-shirts.

The reaction of these students to something so simple and inexpensive to provide was worth the whole experience. They are so grateful for our time, for our willingness to share our knowledge, and for anything from our native country. And I for one am grateful that they are the future of their country.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Novosibirsk November 17

Novosibirsk November 17, 2008

The footpaths winding through the forests of this town take you anywhere you want to go. They are a tranquil alternative to walking on the sidewalks, and in the streets, where cars pretend you’re not there. One thing I was cautioned about on my first day here was to never set foot in a street when there is a car in sight. Especially in winter, because of the ice on the road. The car may not be able (willing) to stop, no matter when the driver applies the brakes. The hood on my parka also obscures my peripheral vision, so I’m constantly overly craning my neck left and right before crossing the street. That is what makes the footpaths so popular.

But the footpaths hold the key to a mystery that has been plaguing me since I started traveling to Eastern Europe in winter. If you observe very carefully (and that is advisable if you are interested in avoiding stepping in something you don’t want on the floor of your home), you will see holes, the circumference of a pencil, an inch deep. Perplexed by this, I watched as my fellow walkers navigated the slippery surfaces. Now, I am fairly normal, I think, and it isn’t such a bad thing to watch a lovely young lady, in stiletto heels, in knee high boots, walking down the street. But when I combined my natural observation of the people around me, with the holes in the footpaths, it struck me: the stiletto heels, on the knee high boots, with the slick slippery soles, are responsible for the tiny holes in the snow and ice. What was the mystery? How women can walk like that. To paraphrase Elaine from “Seinfeld”: “I don’t know how you women walk around with those things.” First of all, it is such an unnatural position for the ball of the foot to be on the ground, and the heel to be at a forty-five degree angle, and three inches high. Secondly, you have to have the balance of a ballet dancer, and the guts of a gymnast, to strut around so confidently. Now, put that together with walking in those heels on ice and snow, and you have the recipe for disaster. But I’ve never seen one of these women fall. Here’s the key to the mystery: the heels act as stabilizers. They puncture the ice and snow and help these women keep their balance.

Or that’s just my theory, anyway.

As stated yesterday, money was the issue today. How was I going to turn these filthy US dollars into rubles? There is a bank on the bottom floor, in a corner, of one the buildings we pass by on our way to our favorite café. There is a sign outside which says that there is also a twenty-four hour ATM, but it is behind a locked door. I walked into the bank, which is down the hall from that door. As I entered the bank, the scene was familiar: customer service representatives at desks helping clients. In Lithuania, whenever I wanted to exchange money, I would do it at one of those desks. But they were full. So I looked around for the tellers. All I saw was a bunch of closed doors lined up one next to the other. One of the doors opened, and I could see a teller on the other side. But all of the doors had signs on them that said different things in Russian. Teller specialists. I just went through the open door and said “currency exchange?” The teller said something in Russian and pointed toward another door. Taking the cue, I went through that door, and asked the same question. She nodded her head. Now I was going to have to give her my dirty bills and probably only get a fraction of what I wanted. She looked at them, and only gave one back to me! It had a teeny tiny ink mark on it. I nodded ashamedly, and pocketed that one. She took the rest, did the calculations, and gave me many, many rubles.

It was such a beautiful day today. It was warm (high 20’s) and no clouds in the sky. What a great day for a walk all around Akademgodorok. But first I had to go to the University to check on the internet situation. Ian had theorized that I probably exceeded the data transfer limit for the money that I gave them. I went to the IT office, and that indeed was the problem. The same man who helped me the first time helped me again, and he couldn’t have been nicer. I paid double the amount as last time, and was on my way.

The route this time would be different. I wanted to end up on the other side of town, near Travelers Coffee. It is across the street from Almira’s institute. The road wound around a bit, and then the footpath cut across an open field, right to the coffee shop. Travelers Coffee is a chain. The name on the front of the shop is in bold English lettering. The music coming from the speakers outside was definitely Western. The menu is not. But I know how to say “cappuccino” in Russian (it’s “cappuccino”), and I know how to gesture so as to indicate that I want a large. The first server spoke no English, so they sent over another server who did, and we found an egg sandwich “with no meat.” Good cappuccino. Everywhere but at Starbucks.

The weather was still cooperating, so it seemed like a good time to walk down to the Ob Sea. It is man-made, and very large. It’s a nice walk, with a pedestrian bridge over the roadway. On the other side, it was hard to tell how to get down to the sea. I had almost given up when a couple with two young children walked past and started down a footpath in that direction. So I followed them, and it does lead there. On the way, there is another pedestrian bridge over railway tracks. The Trans-Siberian! The gentleman was taking pictures of the family, so I said “please” in Russian, and asked in English if he would my picture. He said: “It would be my pleasure.” In English. I asked him if this was the legendary railway that we want to take in the future from Moscow to Vladivostok. “No, it goes to the mountain . . .” and I didn’t hear anything else. Well, at least those millions and millions of people who don’t read this blog will think it’s an impressive shot of me with the Trans-Siberian Railway in the background.

Everyone went down to the beach, which is huge. Hopefully, embedded in this post, is a short video taken with the digital camera of the beach and the water.

It was time to head back into town. I hadn’t really checked out the Trade Center yet, so it seemed like a good time to do that since it was on the way back to the flat. I didn’t see much of interest, until I noticed a sign for DVD’s. Where there are DVD’s, there are CD’s. I know how to find them, all over the world. I picked up an mp3 CD of all of Splin’s albums. They are a famous Russian band whose music Adam introduced me to. I’ll be putting it in the computer in just a little while.

I needed groceries to last until I leave, so a quick stop at the market was in order. Some real “black bread”, raspberry preserves, a frozen pizza (time to eat in tonight) and crackers made the cart. And now I must take back the comments I made about the cashiers at the grocery store. The others I had met on previous visits had been a little unfriendly. This time, however, the lady was smiling, and helped me pick out the right amount to make even change. At least I think that’s what happened.

Novosibirsk November 16, 2008

11:19 pm

We ended the last installment with the chance (?) encounter with Ian. Coming back to the theme of disappointment vs. opportunity: money.

Everywhere I have gone, I have had no trouble exchanging US currency for that of the country I am in. Until here. You’ll recall that the bank on Friday wouldn’t accept perfectly good bills. The fact is that I need cash for some purchases, as well as for the transfers from and to the airport and hotel in Moscow. So I set out late afternoon today to use an ATM to get cash. I haven’t seen the small currency exchange booths here that I have seen in Moscow and Kiev. There is an ATM on the bottom floor of the University building. Five separate times, with two separate cards, I tried to get cash. The first time it rejected the request, saying “withdrawal limit exceeded, please request a smaller amount.” OK. So I did. Same message. Went to another card. This time, the message read “we have been instructed to return card, please contact your own bank.” It said one or the other three more times.

There is another ATM just inside the front door of the hotel. Same result. There is an ATM inside the trade center. Same result.

Knowing that I need to hoard cash, and use the credit card, I decided to go back to the hotel and eat at their restaurant. They took the credit card the last time. I ordered the same exact meal as the last time (I’m playing it safe on the food aspect of this. I don’t want to be in a restaurant with no English language menu, with no one who speaks English, and try to convey that I am a vegetarian - - I know how to say that in Russian - - and not understand their response). When it cam time to pay, I used the same credit card as before. The waitress took it, but came back a few minutes later saying “dollar?” She had my credit card, the bill, but no credit card slip. I said “what?” She said “dollar, no ruble?” I don’t remember what I said, other than “card, nyet?” She shook her head. I said “cash?” She nodded her head. So I paid with my dwindling wad of currency. Now I’m wondering how I am going to get out of this country if they won’t take my US dollars, they won’t take my ATM card, and they won’t take this credit card. A slight bit of anxiety is starting to creep in. I’m going to another bank tomorrow with these bills and see what they say.

Almira provided me with a ticket to a concert at the House of the Scientists. It’s at the end of Ilycha Street, a straight shot from the restaurant. Putting on the yaktrax, I was able to hurry down the icy sidewalk and make it in time.

The House of the Scientists is a concert hall. It is old and not at all ostentatious. It feels perfect for where we are. The stage was set up with eleven sheet music stands, a drum kit, and several large tom-toms ( I don’t know exactly what they are called, but they’re big). There were numbers on the ticket, but I couldn’t tell what was the row and what was the seat. I went to the row I thought my seat was in, and showed my ticket to a lady who was sitting two seats from where I thought mine was. She pointed towards the stage. I inferred from that she was indicating my seat was closer to the stage than this row. Then she pointed to an usher at the end of the row. I walked over to her and said the standard “Ya ne gavaryu pa rooskee.” Sometimes people don’t get it. If I am saying in Russian that I don’t speak Russian, is that to be taken as a sign that, because I said that one phrase in Russian, I CAN speak Russian? Her response was in Russian. But she patiently guided me to my seat: two seats away from the lady who told me my seat was several rows away. She got her comeuppance: just before the show began, the REAL holders of the seat she thought she would be able to claim by squatter’s right came over, and she was banished to some other part of the hall.

The sign that the concert was about to begin was a buzzer. The first one was singular. Then the second and third ones were two and three buzzes respectively.

The hall was about two thirds full. The crowd was as varied as I have ever seen. They ranged anywhere from 3 to 83. They dressed in the finest suits and dresses; and in the grubbiest jeans and t-shirts. I was unsure exactly what the program was going to be, but it looked like this crowd attended every cultural event at the House, which has a fantastic lineup coming in the future.

The house lights dimmed, and eleven men walked onstage. Each had a horn. There were trombones, a tuba, French horns, and trumpets. The musicians themselves varied in age from their twenties to middle age. There was a dead ringer for Chris Farley playing trombone, and a Kevin Bacon look-alike on the trumpet.

A lady walked out onstage just as the band members were taking their places. She would appear between numbers to announce the next piece. I picked up that the group was called the “Sibirski Brass.” They began with classical music, such as Bach, and the 1812 Overture. They played about six numbers in that style. Then there was an intermission, which I spent by walking around the lobby. Once again, not ostentatious.

The buzzers rang again, and the second set began. This time, they really stretched out. They played big band music, show music, the bossa nova, mambo, and salsa. The drummer took some solos, which were very much appreciated by his bandmates, as they hooted and hollered while he pounded away. It was very enjoyable. I often found myself tapping my toes, or bopping my head, or drumming with my fingers. It was an entertaining evening, one that I would never go to back home.

But how many people from South Florida can say that they went to a brass band concert in Sibera?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Response to request for interview

To Ilia Kabanov:

I received your email request for an interview. I would be happy to do so. I tried replying to your email, but it bounced back. I sent it to Is there another way to reach you?

Kind regards,
Scott Richardson

Novosibirsk (Akademgorodok) November 16, 2008

Disappointment and opportunity. They compete with one for control of our psyche. One day (or hour) disappointment seems like it will dominate. Next day (or hour, as it may be) opportunity casts disappointment aside. I tell clients to expect that their lives will seem as if on a roller coaster ride during the pendency of their cases. My advice: keep an even keel. Don’t get too down or too up. If you feel yourself going in one direction or the other, bring yourself to level.

More about this later on in the broadcast.

Yesterday, three of us trekked to an outdoor market. The paths through the forest provided a serene setting for our travels. Then, we arrived at the road. Since none of us had been there before, we asked three different people for directions as we got closer. Each person was very helpful and took the time to help us find the market, which wasn’t easy to spot from a distance. I have found nearly everyone I have met here to be very friendly and willing to help. There are exceptions: the cashiers in the grocery store. When it is obvious that I speak no Russian, except to say “Ya ne gavaryu pa rooskee”, there is a smirk and a sharp turn to sullenness. At least the registers display the total. Half the time, however, they ask (I assume this, since I don’t know for sure) if I have change instead of bills. My response is to pull the change out of my pocket and hold it there in my hand, while they pick through it to find what they are looking for. Then, they begin ringing up the new customer before I even have a chance to put my money back in my pocket, and pick up the bags of groceries. It’s a fast moving line.

The market was fascinating. I have been to Izmaylovo Market in Moscow, more like a bazaar. Izmaylovo has two sections: the tourist section and the locals’ section. The tourist section has souvenirs and plenty of vendors who speak English. The local side is wild. Everything you could possibly want, you can find. The market here is strictly for locals. The stalls and trailers are packed together with barely any room to maneuver. Every other one sold gloves and hats. You can buy flashlights, can openers, knives, fishing tackle, nylons, underwear, negligees, fish (no need to put them on ice; it was below freezing outside), fruit, eggs, pots and pans, jeans, jackets, socks, shoes, and so many other useful items. My companions were in a hunt for gloves and hats, and they were successful. I didn’t need anything, and in any event, I’m running low on cash since the bank wouldn’t take my perfectly good money (this is a project for tomorrow: find another bank, or a money exchange, or an ATM). We made our way back through the forest and to 22 Piragova Street.

Since it was Saturday, and Almira was taking me to the jazz club later in the evening, it was a perfectly good opportunity for a nap. After that, it was a quick dinner of cold soup and breaded cheese sticks, and a call home, and I was good to go.

Almira phoned shortly before 9 pm, and I went downstairs to meet her. She was outside the car, and greeted me warmly (did I mention that she is one of THE nicest people I have ever met? It bears repeating). She introduced me to her husband, and her daughter Sophia, who (and I didn’t know this until that moment) is a student in my class. She is the one who, when I asked on the first day how many of them spoke more than two languages, replied with her own question: you mean foreign languages, in addition to our native Russian? I mentioned that exchange to Sophia and she remembered it.

We were going to a place south of Akademgorodok, called Cochobka Sosnovka, which Almira and her family have been to before. It is now a resort hotel, somewhat like a spa, where one can get massages and skin treatments and the like. It is located near the Ober River, which has a nice beach for sunbathing and water sports in the summer. It also has an auditorium for concerts. I was told that in Soviet times, the hotel was a sanitarium where one could receive something like the same type of services that are now offered. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was purchased by private investors and now is a very impressive complex.

The Lobby Bar is where the jazz combo would be playing. Two of Almira’s friends, a very friendly couple, were waiting for us at the table reserved for our party. Almira’s husband and the other gentleman are old friends and quite the jazz aficionados. There was a jazz festival in Novosibirsk not too long ago, and apparently they attended many of the shows.

The combo included a pianist, an upright bass player, a drummer, a saxophonist, and a vocalist, who sang in English. They played two sets of about six songs each, and I thought they were quite good. It was evident that they had played together for a while. We sat and just enjoyed the music. During intermission, Almira, Sophia and I chatted. After the show was over, I was asked how I rated the combo, on a scale of one to five, five being the highest. Now, when you are a guest in someone else’s country, and you are invited to attend a musical performance in such a lovely setting, with such lovely people, you’ve got to ask yourself: how exactly do I answer this question, especially with people as knowledgeable as these? One way to go would be to rate them in the middle, but that might be viewed as not respectful of the combo, nor appreciative of the hospitality extended to me by Almira and her family. The other route would be to rate them higher, expressing appreciation for local talent. So, consistent with my usual diplomacy and tact, I said: “4.5.”

I’m not sure that I elevated myself in the eyes of these jazz fans. In fact, I may not even have held level. There was some discussion in Russian, after which Almira said: “My husband and his friend said ‘They haven’t played abroad yet.’” There you have it: a succinct and final word on the matter. In other words, they need more work.

It was a very enjoyable evening, and such a nice gesture of friendship from Almira and her family. I was grateful for their consideration and need to find a way to express that. Almira also gave me a ticket for a jazz concert tonight at the House of the Scientists.

Back to the theme of the opening: disappointment and opportunity competing with one another to gain control of your day.

I speak, initially, of the results of the FSU-Boston College game. Homecoming in Tallahassee. I was able to catch the last few minutes of it online on The Seminoles have become an average team after being a dominating program for so many years (I am somehow blamed for this; since switching allegiances when Brendan began at FSU, I am told that I jinxed the program). Is Bowden getting too old and out of touch? Is Jimbo Fisher not the genius he has been touted as? Is it the players, not up to the caliber of stars of years past? Do the breaks just not go their way? No matter the reason, they disappoint. Thus, the morning began.

There was only one other table occupied in the café this morning: a father and his young daughter having a nice breakfast out. She was busy drawing and he was lovingly paying close attention to her creation. The café has three electrical outlets for one to plug in a computer. My battery loses juice so quickly that I have to plug in, so it’s always a relief to see an open table near an outlet. The place also makes a good cappuccino.

One of the ways I am reminded that I am on the other side of the world is that when I log on to read my emails, they are usually several hours old. And when I respond, it will be several more hours before the recipient reads it. Thus, it is at least a twenty-four hour turnaround. This is no good. But this is the way it is. Get over it already.

There were some important emails that I needed to read and send, so it was a three cappuccino session.

Here is where opportunity entered the mix. As I left the café, instead of turning right to walk back to the flat, I turned left and walked towards the street. There didn’t seem to be much to see within walking distance, so I turned around and headed back to the flat. As I was walking, a green car came from the opposite direction. As we passed each other, the car stopped and went into reverse. The door popped open and the driver yelled out my name. It was Ian. I was planning on calling him Monday to ask about the internet, and also to firm up plans for taking me to the airport on Friday. Had I stayed in the café two more minutes; had I not walked towards the street and instead headed directly back to the flat; had I gone left or right on the street, I would not have met up with him. There are those who believe in coincidence. There are those who believe in a greater plan. There are those who don’t believe in either. And there are those, like me, who are situational believers. So, today, I believe in the higher plan.

Ian was on his way to another job, but asked me how everything was going. Feeling inconsiderate and selfish, but nonetheless needy, I told him about the internet outage. He promised to call Max to come by maybe Monday to check it out. Then he said: “I have some bad news.” Uh oh. Self-centered foreigner that I am, I immediately feared it was something that was going to affect me in a negative way somehow. “I’ve been fired.” Sure enough, my first thought was “Now who do I get to help me navigate the rest of my time here?”

“I was fired Friday from my position at the international office. No worries. I have other jobs. I’m still a teacher there. I just won’t work in that office anymore.”

“That’s terrible, Ian. I’m so sorry.” He has a family to support.

“No worries. Now, let’s talk about getting you to the airport on Friday.” Soon, he wrote down all the information on my departure, and told me what time he would be picking me up on Friday morning.

What a mensch.