Thursday, October 25, 2007

Experience in Moscow: Part 3

October 26, 2007

Dear Friends, Family, and Faculty,

I am happy to spread the joyous news that our wireless internet has finally been set up!!! It only took a month, but it's finally up and running, and I am online regularly. I'm still on a very busy schedule, but hopefully, I can start writing a little more often and sending personal emails as well. It was actually hilarious: last night, when the internet suddenly started working at around 12:30am, you could literally feel the atmosphere of the dorm change. From my room, I could hear people shouting with glee and people scampering to their rooms to hop onto Google or Facebook or YouTube as fast as they could.

Last week, our group took an incredible excursion to St. Petersburg, and so, I've decided to devote this installment of my blog to that trip. As per usual, I'll divide it into chapters so it's easier not to read the whole novel at once:


Our trip to St. Petersburg has been planned for quite some time. We had been preparing to take a night train on Thursday, October 18 at 12:30am. On that Wednesday, the 17th of October, after Acting class, our group leaders announced a crucial meeting. We all gathered in our studio, and with an embarassed smile, Colleen, one of our leaders, said: "So...turns out we're going to St. Petersburg tonight!" Apparently, they didn't realize when they booked a 12:30am train for Thursday, it basically meant WEDNESDAY NIGHT. So, we had 5 hours to pack our bags and get ready for our 5-day journey. And so it began...

Later that night, we walked onto the train and found ourselves in a tiny narrow red hallway. My suitcase could hardly fit through it. On the left side, there were doors leading into little cubbyhole compartments. We were each assigned compartments, four to each. The compartments were smaller than a single dorm room and somehow managed to fit four bunk beds. This is one of the few times in my life when I genuinely felt lucky to be really short! The little bed was made of a few-inches of mattress laid on top of metal poles. I think all of the work I've done in Movement class to imrpove my back flexibility was undone in one night of sleep on that bed!

The trip was about 8 hours. Naturally, as we excited college students tend to do, our group stayed up for awhile drinking some wine and causing general mayhem on the train. But eventually, it was time to sleep. least...TRY to sleep. My sleep was so eratic. I'd often wake up to strange pop music playing on the loud-speaker outside my little compartment. The air was so thin, the temperature so stiflingly high, every time I'd wake up throughout the night, I was wearing one less piece of clothing! Here I was, in Russia - one of the most frigid countries on Earth - and I was burning up like I was in the 7th Circle of Hell! But, as I've said time and again, it's all part of the experience!

Finally, we arrived in St. Petersburg at around 8am. For those of you who have ever seen me in the morning, you know I am basically a zombie. Well, imagine that times 10, and that's how I trudged off that train. I was actually happy that we had left a day early, so that I could have an extra day to just be a vegetable before our sight-seeing would begin.

I learned we were staying in a hostel, and after the train experience, I was convinced it was going to be something like "Hostel," the horror film, but it actually turned out quite differently. It turned out to be better than some motels I've seen in the states. There were TVs in the rooms (not that we used them...Russian TV is very strange, by the way), the beds were comfortable, the rooms spacious. It was relieving to have a comfortable sleeping space for the next few days. And oh, how busy those days would be...


Our day began with a few hours bus tour of the city. I immediately notcied a completely different tempo than Moscow. The whole look of the city is entirely different...a much brighter, more peaceful, far less bustling appearance. For one, everything was much cheaper, which was a huge plus. The air seemed much more quiet, smiles were more common among residents, people were friendlier. If you waved at them, they'd actually wave back, and maybe even smile! Generally, a polar opposite momentum to that of Moscow. I guess a good way to describe the difference between the two places would be: "In Moscow it is winter, in St. Petersburg it is autumn." St. Petersburg is known as the "Venice of the North." It is a very European city. It is made up of 42 mini-islands all connected by small bridges. The main river that runs through the city is the Neva, it is kind of their Grand Canal...filthy and beautiful at the same time (which I would learn later is a very prominent characteristic of the city).

All of the architecture is in the 19th Century Art Noveau style, so it was all very beautiful to look at. All of the facades on the buildings were very decadent and impressive, and all were painted in soft pastel colors. The main color of the city is yellow, which was chosen in order to keep the city bright through the harsh, gray winters. Peter the Great created St. Petersburg as his Dream City back in the 18th Century. And the city truly does feel dream-like at times. There are dozens of parks and gardens scattered throughout the city. There are statues and monuments decorating the town...some of them frightening, like the huge busts of Lenin that still stand proud, and some of them mind-blowing, like the pair of actualy sphinxes from Ancient Egypt, over 4,000 years old, that Peter the Great placed adjacent to the enormous Neva River.

We saw many important and historic sites on our tour. We visited the Church of St. Nicholas, one of the many Orthodox churches in St. Petersburg, and we happened to walk in while a service was taking place. The Church was incredibly lavish, shimmering in gold and red inside. In Russian Orthodox churches, there are no pews, so all of the churchgoers were standing up. There was a choir in the corner singing in rich, 4-part harmony, and everything inside just felt like a different world, completely removed from everything outside of it. We also saw the Yusupov Palace, where the infamous Rasputin was murdered. While driving along the Neva, we saw many amazing sites, including the Romanov's palace, now known as the Hermitage (which I will get to soon), a huge 19th Century ship, which looked like the Flying Dutchman from "Pirates of the Carribbean" and has been strangely converted into a gym. While the city isn't relatively old, it is filled with history, and being surrounded by so much history is a feeling that can't be described.

After the tour, we had a few hours before evening, so a friend and I decided we would visit the world-famous Hermitage Art Museum, considered the number one must-see in St. Petersburg. Our journey there actually spawned a funny encounter which deserves mention: On the way there, we passed through a kitschy tourist market, and suddenly two young guys, one of them a taller blonde, the other short and stout with a crew-cut, recognized our English and approached us. They were Americans, and it was refreshing to hear English. We asked them if they knew where the Hermitage was, and they offered to show us the way. As we got acquainted, we learned they were missionaries with their Church. All through our walk to the museum, the pair kept talking about their Church, the number of missionaries in Russia, how many Churches they have set up in the city, etc. etc. etc.....etc. We asked them where they were from, and they said: "Colorado and Utah." That's when I realized they were Mormons with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They seemed confused that we were studying theatre in Russia, and continued to ramble on about their Church. Finally, they pointed us in the right direction, and just before parting ways, I realized we hadn't learned their names, so I asked them. The blonde responded with: "Salisbury...Elder Salisbury," and the other, wide-eyed, said: "Elder Gaeling." We said goodbye and walked along, feeling a slightly uncomfortable, but happy that we now knew the way.

The Hermitage has become one of my favorite places in the world. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be: "breathtaking." Built by Catherine the Great, and formerly the palace of the Romanov Czars, it is the second largest collection of art in the to the Louvre, and it's often considered the most glorious museum in the world. It holds over 3 million pieces of art, only some of which is actually on display at a time. The museum is unbelievably's been calculated that if one were to look at each piece of art on display for one minute without food or sleep, it would take 7 years to see everything. It is easy to get lost, which was actually my favorite part...walking alone through some of the rooms is a spiritual experience. Not only are you surrounded by art - Renoir, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Michaelangelo - but the entire building is a work of art. Everything is so gloriously literally gasp as you enter some of the rooms. Most of them are vibrantly colorful. Elegant staircases adorned with red carpets. Classical sculptures lining the hallways. Golden lining and trinkets along the walls. Huge wall-sized paintings. Everything inside is a feast for the eyes. Sensory overload. It's like a holy shrine of art. Everything is one point, my hand brushed against a door to one of the rooms, and suddenly I heard an old babushka (one of the "guards" of the art in the museum) shouting at me in Russian. While it is an art museum, it also feels like a history museum. This is literally the palace where the Royal Family of Russia resided. I can't imagine getting lost in my own home! I got to see the lavish throne room, many ballrooms, family rooms, places were the Romanovs themselves lived and roamed. The museum is quite begin to feel faint and light-headed...every corner you turn, each threshold you cross, each magnificent room you enter, your lungs seem to stop for a moment and your soul is struck.


The next day, maybe one of our best days in Russia thus far, we took an excursion about 45 minutes outside of the hub of St. Petersburg to a small town called Pushkin. The town is named after the famous poet, who is embedded so deeply within the Russian national consciousness (children are obliged to learn many of his poems by heart). Pushkin spent most of his time in this town, formerly called Tsarskoe Selo, and his statue sits in the middle of one of the parks, surrounded by fresh bouquets of flowers. The respect for him is monumental.

The main sight we visited in Pushkin was Catherine the Great's Summer Palace and Gardens, which literally looks like something out of a fantasy. The palace itself, huge and astounding, is colored blue and white and (as usual) lined with gold. But the real joy came in exploring the surrounding park and gardens. We strolled through the park for over 2 hours. The whole place was ethereal, truly a fantasy, like a dream vision of autumn. Glimmering lakes and ponds. Crystal reflections of orange, yellow, and red trees, the sun creeping out behind them. Families of ducks, seagulls, sparrows, and pigeons. Lush, green fields. Ornate gardens decorated with Roman statues. Gravel pathways enclosed by trees. Crisp, dry, clean, open air. Bare trees against the backdrop of blue skies and white clouds. People fishing in the ponds. Horse chariots driving families through the park. An enveloping feeling of euphoria and serenity. Feelings ecstatic and delicate at the same time. It's hard to try to describe this place without waxing poetic. I could have spent an entire day wandering that estate. After a month of the intense hustle and bustle of life in Moscow, it was invigorating to be able to spend time in a peaceful fantasy land for awhile.

That night, we were taken to the Maarinsky Theatre to see the Kirov Ballet Company perform SWAN LAKE. The Kirov is known as one of the best ballet companies in the entire world. Mikhail Baryshnikov himself came out of this company. I have never seen dancing like this in my life. The artists on stage were performing some of the most intense physical feats and made them look effortless. The lead dancer, Ulyana Lopatkina, is world famous and has been dancing the role for years. We had seen SWAN LAKE at the Bolshoi in Moscow, so it was interesting to compare and contrast. Basically, it's putting two of the best ballet companies in the world up against each other. Still, to me, the Kirov blew the Bolshoi out of the water. The choreography was more creative, the dancers were more impressive, and the piece was captivating from start to finish. I've never considered ballet one of my favorite artforms, but I've really begun to appreciate it in a new light. This whole experience has given me a new appreciation for all art...and I feel like it's all under the same umbrella...ballet, visual art, theatre, musical theatre. It was also refreshing to feel such a strong energy in the audience at the ballet. There were people of all ages, and the crowd would often break into applause in the middle of the performance, with vigorous shouts of "Bravo!" At the end, audience members brought bouquets of flowers on-stage and handed them to the dancers. The curtain call went on for about 20 minutes. A truly phenomenal artistic experience.


Rarely does anything work out completely as planned, but my final day in St. Petersburg was pretty much perfect. We had a free day to do whatever we liked, and my friends Sami and David I planned out a specific schedule - not expecting it to work out, but we managed to do everything we planned and more...and we managed to have an incredibly disturbing experience along the way, so fitting for Russia!

The day began with another visit to the Hermitage. It was so breathtaking, I had to go back a second time. It was even more beautiful this time around. I was able to notice much more detail and absorb the art a little more deeply.

Then came the dreaded Kunstkamera. We had heard about this museum from our tour guide, who told us it housed Peter the Great's personal collection of oddities. We were intrigued by that, so we decided to check it out. We searched and searched for it, and finally found it under the sign of "Anthropological Museum." We went in looking for the oddities, but all we could see were kitschy displays of cultures from around the world. Tools. China. Eskimos. African Masks. Your standard museum fair. We were convinced that we were in the wrong museum, but then found one little area on the museum map titled "The First Scientific Collection of the Kunstkamera." It was the only area in which you were not allowed to take photos, and we knew this was what we had been looking for. So, we skipped all of the cultural anthropological exhibits and unfortunately reached the oddities display. It was not a pretty sight. Apparently, Peter the Great was very progressive: he wanted to convince the public that "monsters" - meaning deformed people (that's what they called them in those days) - were not supernatural beings tied with the devil, but rather human beings. As he had extreme interest in science, he collected "monstrous" animals, fetuses, children, babies, put them in jars on display and opened Russia's first museum. I saw some of the most terrifying things: jars of dead fetuses with hideous deformities...brain hernias, siamese twins, extraneous limbs, undeveloped limbs, fused legs, cycloptic eyes. Then there were jars of childrens' heads and arms and feet. Rows and rows of these horrors on shelves. And it was all real. I nearly gagged at times. An even more horrifying characteristic: When Peter the Great opened the museum, he didn't want to scare too many people away, so he decorated the oddities in little trinkets to make the public more comfortable. So, some of the "monsters" were decorated with bonnets, ribbons, and doilies...making them even more disturbing. Needless to say, we spent only about 30 minutes in this exhibit before we couldn't handle any more. While the experience was very unnerving, I'm glad I went because it really colored the cultural differences between Russia and America. A museum like this would never ever stand in America. It's interesting to think about what value a museum like this has, and why Russians aren't protesting it to the ground. I guess it's one of those cultural differences that we just can't understand. The experience left me quite shaken.

After lunch at the "Greenwich Pub," a restaurant that was basically an unintentional parody of American culture ("My Heart Will Go On" from TITANIC was playing in the background), we went on an hour-long boat trip along the Neva River. The weather was perfect; the wind was chilly but comfortable, the sun was shining, and the sky looked like a Monet painting. Then, we walked along Nevsky Prospect, the main street of St. Petersburg, sat in a park for awhile, and made our way back to our hostel. A very satisfying and busy day. That night, we returned to Moscow on that infamous train.


There is no doubt that St. Petersburg is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. It's the sort of city I could see myself living in. However, all of the beauty and grandeur also has a dark underbelly. The city is illustrated well by the fact that you can't drink the tap's contaminated. That seems to be a recurring theme in the city. While i'ts beautiful, it can also be quite poisonous. The buildings are gorgeous, but they were built almost entirely by slaves. Many say that the city was "built upon bones." The Kunstkamera museum, a glamorous, bright green building, seems tame and cheerful until you find the horrors lying inside. All of the buildings have incredible facades...and the keyword is "facade." There are indeed some very shady characters. On one of the stops on our bus tour, we saw an older man with two bear cubs tied to straps. He was charging money for tourists to take photographs with the bear cubs. We could see he wasn't treating the bears in any sort of humane way. It was offensive and saddening. While the days are bright and pretty, St. Petersburg by night is considered even more dangerous than Moscow. One of my friends was walking back to the hostel at night and saw a man slamming a car door on a woman's arm, who was wailing for help. The man was clearly dangerous so my friend couldn't help. Gruesome, I know, but it's reality.

Still, with all of the dark undercurrents, the city's beauty cannot be denied. Whether it was built upon bones or not, one cannot help feeling at peace in this city. It's amazing to think how different the city was just 20 years ago, back when it was called Leningrad. Our bus tour-guide, who was only 28 or so, explained to us how radically the city changed in her lifetime. She told us that just two decades ago, there were no stores, restaurants, or advertisements at all, and now the city is filled to the brim with them. People had to wait over three hours in line just for a small chicken. It's unfathomable what the change in government did for this country and for the world. The excursion to St. Petersburg was truly enlightening, and it's experiences like this that feed my soul and enrich my art.

Thank you for reading this email, even if some of it was a bit more gruesome than the previous ones. I'm so happy to be able to share this experience with all of you. Now that I have internet, I'll be able to write you personally (though it still may take a little while). So, feel free to email me to say hi, or catch me on Instant Messenger, or shoot me a Facebook message. Also, for those of you with Facebook, I have posted some of my photos, so please check them out! I will try to send photos to you all via email ASAP.

Anyway, it's now almost 2 am, and I'm literally collapsing on the keyboard. I wish you all the best and hope to hear from you soon.

With love,

Etai Benshlomo

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Experience in Moscow: Part 2

Dear Friends, Family, and Faculty,

Well...another week has passed, and still no internet in our dorm, so I'm back at the good old Internet Cafe for the next installment of my journey abroad. No news yet as to when I will have internet regularly, but I'll be sure to let you know. Thanks to everyone who replied to my last email. It's so great to hear how everyone's doing, and to be at least a little bit in touch with what's going on halfway across the world. Sorry that I haven't responded to you personally, and as soon as I get more internet time, I'll do so. But please, keep the emails coming! Again, as I like to ramble, I'll divide this e-mail into chapters to make it a little more readable:


I realized that in my last email I didn't really talk about life in the dorm too much. We were very lucky this year, as the program put us up in brand-new dorms. The rooms are cleaner, larger, and more comfortable than any dormitory I've seen in the states. Since most of our working and social environment is so foreign to us, it's nice to have a comfortable living space. However, ours is the largest group of American students the program has ever accepted (there is a total of 35 students), so life isn't always so easy. We don't have many showers, toilets, or kitchen appliances between us, so often people will battle over a stove, refrigerator cabinet, or washing machine. By the way, I don't think Russians believe in Laundromats...there is not a single one in this city! I keep reminding's all part of the experience. It's the absence of these little comforts that makes life in Moscow that much more interesting.

The dorm is located right off of Tverskaya Street, which is the main street of Moscow, so we are in a very safe and nice area. To get to school, all we have to do is walk down Tverskaya Street about 30 minutes...or take a quick Metro ride, and we're there. Simple. But I have a feeling that as the weather continues to get more and more grim, I won't be doing as much walking.

Our dorm is located next to a few other dorms, all of which have very similar front doors...and this actually led to a rather funny story I thought I'd share with you all: A few weeks ago, before I was confident in our dorm's location, I stayed in our school studio to work for awhile after class. Mariana, the Director of the American Studio (basically our Russian babysitter who makes sure we're all doing alright and watches over us), gave me the key to lock up the studio when I left...and then, for some reason, she also handed me a spoon. She told me to give it to the "digiorna" (basically a polite word for "old lady"...well, more polite than "babushka" at least) at our dormitory, who lets us in when we press the buzzer at the front door. So, later that night, I walk back to our dorm and buzz in, not noticing that the lobby looks very different, and not really giving thought to the fact that it wasn't a "digiorna" at the door, but rather a psychotic looking old man. He wore a worker's cap, had yellow teeth, fat cheeks, and large but seemingly dead eyes. And of course, me being me, I assumed that maybe the "digiorna" was on a break, and he was just filling in for her. So I walked over to the old man, hand him the spoon, and timidly said: "...Mariana." ...There is absolutely no way that the slew of loud Russian screams and shouts that spewed from his mouth were not curses. Suddenly, I looked more closely at my surroundings, and saw that the walls were basically crumbling, the floors were covered in filth, there were cables and wires hanging loosely in the air -- the place was basically a war-zone. Realizing that this was NOT my dorm, I ran to the door as fast as I could and tried to get out, but it was locked. Thinking the old man had to unlock the door by buzzing it to let me out, I just started yelling "pazhalusta" (which means "please") with my bad accent and knocking against the door, as he kept screaming and shouting at me. It was my own personal horror film. Finally, I found a little button next to the door, which unlocked it, and I hurried out, still hearing the old man's screeches as I slammed the door behind me. Only then did I see that my dorm was the next door over...about a meter away. All part of the experience, I suppose.

While we American students have our own floor, we also live in the same dormitory as some of the Russian acting students. It's been really interesting to interact with them, and find similarities and differences. Communicating is not always easy, but most of the students know at least a little English from American films and television, and we always have our trusty English-Russian dictionaries, which are a big help. While the Russian are usually quite busy, they have made time to get to know us. One of the students from our group had a birthday not too long ago, and the Russian students threw him a party in the dorm, which was a lot of fun. In a few weeks, we will be throwing them a Halloween party. While many conversations are limited to "Priviet" ("Hey") "Kak Djila?" ("How are you?") and "Paka" ("See you later"), it's still a lot of fun to hang out with them, and to see such intense, dedicated artists let loose and have fun.


A week ago, our group was taken to the home of Konstantin Stanislavksy, which has been converted to a museum. Stanislavsky was basically the founder of Modern Acting technique, and he was made famous for his "Method." When people refer to someone as a "Method Actor," it means they are students of his style of training. He also founded the Moscow Art Theatre, which is where I am studying. While his work was relatively recent (he died in 1938), he is one of the foremost figures in theatre history around the world, but he has always been very elusive to me. I've read many of his writings and studied some of his techniques, but he's never been much more than a name in a book to me. To see his home, where he worked, where he developed his craft and taught his students, was quite illuminating. In each room...his study, his bedroom, his living room, his studio, there were pictures of him working in those same rooms. For an actor, the house exudes a special sort of is like a temple, the birthplace of acting as we know it. Seeing the photos of his everyday life, walking where he walked, touching the furniture and bookcases he used, seeing the books he read, suddenly, this textbook figure, this artistic genius, this god of the theatre, became human to me. Having visited his home, and learning more about him in our Theatre History course, I feel more of a personal connection with the roots of my craft. Overall, the experience was very enlightening.

Today, on my day off, I wanted to visit one of Moscow's must-sees. The skies were gray, it was the first day of snow, the wind was strong, the air and ground were fitting a day for a visit to Vladimir Lenin's mausoleum. In the heart of Red Square is a dark, granite monument, in which the body of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the world-changing Communist Revolution of 1917, is embalmed and on display. The visit was the most chilling experience I've had since being here, and a perfect example of the "Russian soul" and the conflict between new-world and old-world Russia. At the mausoleum, there are two very important and very clear rules: 1.) No cameras or bags. 2.) No speaking...or smiling. We waited in the queue line for about five minutes, in the sharp, freezing Russian chill...which was appropriate preporation for the experience ahead. Suddenly, we were led into the mausoleum, and walked a few flights of steps underground. We immediately saw a "militsia" guardsman, illuminated by a single light within the dark hallway. We followed a series of hallways...and every corner we turned, there was another stone-faced guardsman, watching our every move. Finally, we reached the main area, with a small path leading around the center of the room, in which there stood a glass box with a perfectly preserved Vladimir Lenin lying inside, a typical Russian frown imprinted on his lifeless face. It was hard to believe it was really him, his skin glossy and wax-like. (In fact, there is a rumor among new generation Russians that it is not really him, and that his body was replaced by a wax figure years ago). The room was almost pitch dark, except for the light illuminating the glass box. The air felt still, and not a sound could be heard. There was a guardsman at each end of the path, and if you stopped for more than a few seconds, they would snap at you to keep moving. So, we were only in the mausoleum for about a total of 3 or 4 minutes. Once we emerged above ground, we walked down an outdoor path, along which were the graves and busts of many historical revolutionaries, including Stalin himself. I was shocked to see dozens of flower bouquets on the graves and along the path, and it was clear to me that for many Russians, the former Communist regime is still very much a part of their souls.

The Lenin mausoleum has been the subject of much controversy in Russia for many years. The idea to preserve Lenin's body actually came from Stalin, who insisted that Lenin remain a part of Soviet Russia even in death. In fact, in his lifetime, Lenin had specifically requested to be buried in St. Petersburg next to his mother, and his widow insisted that no monument be built for him, but still, Stalin went along with his plan. When Boris Yeltsin was in power, he made plans to remove the body and bury it as Lenin wanted, but there was such an upsurge of opposition from the older generation that he was unable to carry out this task. Putin, the current president, is very much opposed to keeping the body preserved, and it is rumored that he will have it buried within a few years. While I understand the historical importance of monuments, I think that keeping his body preserved is a sort of bizarre psychological anchor, a hanging on to the past, a depraved reminder of a regime that failed. I think it would be better to bury the body, and with it, the past. However, many Russians insist on holding on to the ideals of the former Russia. Just today, as we entered Red Square, there was a small group demonstration of marchers, mostly older folk, proudly displaying a Red Flag with the hammer and sickle, the symbol of Communism. Never has this fascinating aspect of Russian culture been so dramatically apparent to me until today.


My Russian has been getting better, as we have Russian language class 6 hours a week. I can finally order food at least a little more comfortably. Speaking of food, my body is still adapting to Russian cuisine. The food here is VERY heavy. Salad is almost non-existant. Usually our meals will consist of some sort of meat dish...usually chicken or pork (sometimes with cheese toppings), with sides of potatoes or rice or sometimes vegetables, and bread pies filled with cabbage or basically you have your carbs with a side of carbs. But one thing Russians do especially well is dessert. We always have a huge assortment of cakes, pies, and pastries, decadantly decorated with chocolate, marshmallow fluff, or cream. Even their drinks are heavier! Last week, I visited the "Shokoladnitza," a popular cafe. I ordered a hot chocolate, and the waiter brought me a cup filled with literally, melted chocolate. In America, when I order a hot chocolate, I expect chocolate-flavored hot water, not literally chocolate that is hot. But nonetheless, it was some of the most amazing chocolate I've tasted, like something out nof Willy Wonka's factory. Luckily, our classes are so physically demanding that we're able to work off the extra calories. I think I sweat off an entire meal in one ballet class!

I've been observing more and more interesting characters as the days pass. Our acting teachers encourage us to closely observe everyone around us. One of the funnier things I've noticed is that the mullet, a hairstyle (which is short in the front and long in the back) often considered "trashy" or "hicky" in America, is extremely popular here. Most of the hipper young people sport mullets proudly, and I've spotted dozens of them all over the city.

One of the more interesting characters I've come across is the older homeless woman who hangs around the area of our school. On our first day here, she approached our group, and shrieked at us in a high-pitched voice, pattering in Russian. Somewhere in there, our guide heard phrases like "Go back to America!" and "You have no culture!" As I've seen her more and more, I've noticed she verbally attacks almost anyone on the street, Russian or foreign alike. Sometimes, she shouts out just plain gibberish...often speaking to herself. She carries around what looks like a bag of personal treasures, including a pink whistle which she constantly cleans with a leaf. I often see her taking naps on a nearby stone bench or meandering around the street. Moscow is filled with quirky characters of this sort.

While I'm beginning to adapt to the culture, there are still some cultural differences that are so foreign to me. One of them is the Russians' light treatment of racism. They do not take racism very seriously here, which can sometimes be shocking to our group. For example, when we saw the Moscow Art Theatre second-year students' class showcase, they had a series of pop-star impersonations. When some students impersonated Ella Fitzgerald and Gloria Gaynor (which they had down to a T), they donned full black-face...which is illegal in America. The face-painting was meant, I'm sure, as an artistic choice (Russian actors very much believe in "becoming" the character they are portraying) rather than as a gesture of prejudice, but nonetheless some of the students in our group were offended. Sometimes, it is very difficult to see past the cultural gap. Luckily, we haven't had any other serious run-ins with any sort of prejudice, but now we know what to expect.

Life in Russia still remains mysterious and a bit unsettling, but, once again, this is all part of the experience.


I am constantly stunned at the theatrical experiences I have here. Since I last wrote to you, I've seen Tchaikovsky's opera THE QUEEN OF SPADES at the Bolshoi Theatre, an Afro-Modern interpretation of Stravinsky's THE RITE OF SPRING at the Territoriya Festival, and a movement showcase at the Schukin School performed by students of Droznin, the founder of the movement technique we are studying, and MAMMA MIA!

As I've attended more theatre, I've noticed some more interesting aspects that depict the amount of respect for the arts and the weight that performing arts carry, that is inherent in Russian culture. Theatre here runs in repertory. Rather than a Broadway-type schedule of 8-performances a week continuously, a particular production will perform once every few months. This not only allows for productions to run for years, and for actors to work in multiple productions simultaneously, but it also makes shows more sacred. If a show is playing one night, it will be your only chance to see it for maybe two months, and thus, the importance of seeing the performance is heightened. Another interesting difference between Russian and American theatre is the curtain call, when the actors come out to bow. Sometimes, the curtain call will last ten minutes and continue on as the house lights come up. The audience will not stand up immediately, but rather they clap simultaneously and in rhythm at first. Then, maybe after four or five bows, the audience might stand if the performance was outstanding. A standing ovation here carries significant weight, whereas in America, it has become almost standard. At some performances, in the rare cases that I've seen audience members pull out phones or try to sneak out their cameras, rather than approaching and reprimanding them personally, the ushers point red laser lights at the offenders to get them to put their belongings away.

MAMMA MIA! deserves a paragraph in itself. It was one of the more hilarious theatrical experiences I've had here. I guess if there's one thing that can make Russian people laugh, smile, and dance, it's a Broadway mega-musical. The script as well as all of the famous ABBA tunes, were translated into Russian. However, some famous words and phrases were kept in the songs, so while you'd hear a ton of Russian lyrics, suddenly you'd hear the words "Dancing Queen" or "Super Trouper" or "S.O.S." I realized that one thing American theatre does really well is musicals. The show itself is kind of silly and ridiculous, and to see Russian actors adapt their more intense, Method acting style to this kind of performance was very funny. The actors were good, but none of them had the glorious Broadway voices you would hear in America. One of the actors, an older male, couldn't sing too well, and actually couldn't act very well either, but he kind of looked like Robert DeNiro so I gave him the benefit of the doubt! The theatre itself was lavish and beautiful, and the lobby had a large wooden dance floor and little mini-stage set up. At intermission, there was a cold-faced young man leading a "Mamma Mia!" dance party in the lobby. It was absolutely hysterical, as he was unenthusiastically teaching cliche 70s dance moves to an enthusiastic bunch of Russian theatregoers. Of course, we all joined in and were the stars of the party. In America, you don't see a dance party at intermission...I think it's kind of a hilarious reflection of how they view America. Most of the audience actually seemed to really love the show, except for a frumpy, conservatively dressed elderly couple sitting behind me, who had clearly come to the wrong show. As the performance went on, they sank further and further into their seats...I don't think I saw them crack a smile once. By the final song, almost everyone in the theatre was standing and dancing in their seats or in the aisles. The final song was "Waterloo" and the cast sang it in English (though it took me 3 verses to realize this, because their accents were so thick..."Wada-loo, I wuz dee-feeded, you wohn the worrr"). The experience showed me that there is always room for fun and escapist theatre, even in a country where Chekhov and Shakespeare reign supreme.


Our coursework remains tough and intense, but pretty incredible. Our American group is divided into two separate groups, and my ensemble has really started bonding. As we are all very vulnerable here, we have been able to really get to know each other in class. While definite alliances have formed, and some people have begun to annoy each other (typical of any group that spends most of their time together), in the classroom, we are all fully supportive of each other as artists. This idea of a strong working ensemble is key to Russian theatre training. Next week, we will be performing a five minute piece in the "Kapusnik" (which literally translates to "Cabbage Party"), which is a show/party for performed by and for all of the Moscow Art Theatre School students and professors. The origins of the name of the event are still a mystery to me, but I think it has sometimes to do with the fact that Bread cabbage pies are served there. We still don't know exactly what we will be performing, but we know it will somehow include a popular Russian song "Stariklyon" ("The Maple Tree") that our Acting teacher has taught us.

We are continuing to work on mostly etudes, games, and exercises in class. Most of the games and exercises are designed to develop our imagination. Misha, our Acting teacher, constantly tells us that "an actor must be like a child," imaginative, creative, and emotionally vulnerable. One of the most difficult concepts were are learning is not to SHOW emotion, but simply to FEEL it. Many of the exercises that we do in class, some of them developed by Stanislavsky himself almost 100 years ago, are helping us to discover our emotions, as we must be able to access them before we can control them. The training is not easy, and can sometimes be very frustrating, but I can see all of my peers growing as artists, and I'm sure I am as well.

This past week, we worked mostly on animal etudes. We each had to fully inhabit an animal, and have some sort of event happen to it, causing the animal to change in some way. I decided to be a turtle crossing a busy street and nearly getting hit by a car, causing it to move as fast as it can. I spent several hours looking at pictures and videos of turtles, trying to understand exactly how they move, their facial features, their speed, the sounds they make, the way their joints move. I then infused a sort of "character" or "soul" into the turtle, as the teacher suggested. I used a duffel suitcase as my shell, and spent awhile crawling around my dorm as a turtle. When I presented it in class, my teacher complemented my efforts and my character, but told me that I needed to be even more specific with the movements and the turtle's objective (WHY was he crossing the street, etc.) That is the level of work our teachers demand. We also had a group etude, which was an etude performed by our entire ensemble, in which we had to recreate a waiting room at an audition. After we presented the etude, our teacher gave us extensive notes, but told us it was one of the best group etudes they had seen in years, which for us, was a huge achievement. Now, we are continuing to work on etudes that we adapt from short stories by Chekhov, as well as duet etudes in which we perform an apology and forgiveness between two people. Next week, we will begin our first venture into scenework.

As I get to know my teachers more, I begin to understand the kind of discipline their training is built upon. I talked awhile with our ballet teacher, Larissa, a few days ago (using an interpreter of course). Speaking about her demand for hard work and extreme discipline, she told me: "I cannot live when I see bad dancing." She told me that her father, who was her teacher, would never allow her to show any signs of frustration, and insisted that she always maintain a calm composure. She compared this form of discipline to the famed theatre director, Suzuki, who, she explained, "used to beat his actors with a stick." She highlighted the fact that nowadays, you have to be multi-talented. You must be able to do 4 pirhouettes, then sing a classical aria, and then perform a Shakespearian monologue. "Discipline builds character," she told me. Coordination and strength are highly important, and "exercise is essential to your art." This was some very inspiring advice. Larissa is the kind of remarkable, disciplined, hard working artist I aspire to be.

I can't wait to bring everything I've learned here with me back to school. But I know that I still have a lot of work ahead of me.

This coming Thursday, we are taking a 4 day trip to St. Petersburg, which I am very excited about. St. Petersburg is known as the "Paris of the east," and I have heard it is among the most beautiful cities in the world. I'm not sure about the itinerary, but I'll be sure to update you next week about how the excursion was. I know it will be an unforgettable experience.

Anyway, that's all for now. Please write to me when you can, I love hearing from you. And, once again, I promise that when I get a better internet connection, I will send more pictures for you. I hope all is well back in the states, and I wish you all the best. Hopefully, I'll survive the ever-approaching Russian winter and be able to write to you soon.

With love,

Etai Benshlomo

Experience in Moscow: Part 1

October 7, 2007

Dearest Friends, Family, and Faculty,

I am so sorry it has taken me so long to contact you. We were told that we would have wireless internet, but they still haven't set it up for us! If you've tried to contact me, I really haven't had more than a second on the internet, and I'm sorry I haven't gotten back to you. But here I am, sitting in an Internet cafe, and this is my first official MOSCOW BLOG email! Feel free to forward it to whoever may be interested. A little disclaimer: Since I expected to be able to write more regularly, and I have already had two weeks of immense experiences in Moscow and at the Moscow Art Theatre School, this email may be rather long, so I am dividing it into parts. Read it in whatever free time you have:


We've been here about 2 weeks already, and the culture shock is still very strong. While the city is very modern, I wouldn't consider it entirely Westernized. Sure, you've got your McDonald's and KFC's, your decadent shopping malls, and I think they just got their first Starbucks, but the culture is so inherently different from our own. If I had to describe Moscow in one word, I think it would be "intense." The architecture is vast and grand, but with sort of a bleak shade to it. The enormous statues scattered around the city (there are still some monuments to Lenin and Stalin as well as many other historical figures), are dark and masculine, as opposed to the more delicate feminine Western classical Roman sculptures.

While I wouldn't consider Russian people very warm, they are very "real." I was so surprised by how quiet they are. Some nights, I have walked along Tverskaya St. (basically the Broadway of Moscow), with hundreds of people walking around me, and all I can hear is footsteps. Unless they've had their fair share of vodka (which is VERY common here), the Russian people remain relatively silent, whispering to each other. Sometimes, in communicating with them, I have a hard time hearing them. It's made me realize even more how incredibly loud Americans can be...not to mention American theatre people! The faces of the Russians are very always feel as if they have all been through many hard experiences...and many of them have, what with Communism falling only about 2 decades ago. You also won't find many smiles among those faces. The philosophy behind it is: "A smile should come from the heart." It is actually kind of refreshing, considering many of the plastic smiles we find in America. But it can be unnverving at times. A former student of my program summed up Russian living/culture very accurately: "In the Russian language, there are six words for 'suffering' and no word for 'personal space.'" People automatically recognize Americans, and they are not afraid to stare us down like we are aliens. On the subway during rush hour, people will pack like sardines. Very often, you will find your face centimeters away from another. It is easy to feel invaded and vulnerable in this city.

Speaking of the subway, the metro stations here are absolutely amazing. When Stalin built and modernized the metro system, he referred to it as "a palace for the people," as stations would be places frequented by most of the working class. And sometimes, the stations really do feel like palaces. They are adorned with huge statues, monuments, stained glass, ornate decor. Every station is also entirely different, and you feel like you are in a different world at each one. The system is incredibly efficient. I have waited no longer than 2 minutes for a train (one is guaranteed every 3 minutes), and the system is quite easy to figure out once you recognize the names of the stations. The other big difference is the doors of the trains. When they close, THEY CLOSE. And if someone is in the way, they will still close. Thus, people will push and shove (sometimes violently) to get onto a train, not just out of impatience, but out of fear that the doors will close on their heads or arms or bags!

Some of the older generation of Russian people tends to be very superstitious. One funny superstition: If a woman sits on the ground, she will not be able to have children. Their gender roles are very conservative. Women are not expected to do manual tasks, like moving furniture. Men are expected to adhere to "gentlemanly" rules, such as opening doors, moving chairs, offering their jackets in the cold, etc. As this is sort of "old world," it sometimes frustrates the progressive females in our American group.

The police (called the "militsia") are very corrupt. We are required to carry our documents with us at all times, as the police are free to question us as they please. If we don't have our identification documents on us, they can arrest us and actually hold us in jail! Or, of course, you can always bribe them. One of my friends in the program was holding a beer in Red Square, and a policeman approached him and told him it wasn't allowed (despite the fact that you often see beer being SOLD in Red Square, not to mention many people drinking it). The policeman told him that it was Russian protocol to arrest him for 3 hours. Natually my friend was terrified, but offered the policeman a bribe. The policeman wanted 4,000 rubles (roughly 160 dollars), but all my friend had was 700 (about 30 dollars). So the policeman gave him a cigarette case, and told him to put the money in the cast and hand it back. He did so, and the policeman let him go.

Vodka is also a huge part of the culture here. It is said here that once two friends have drank together, they're friends for life. About a week ago, a few friends and I went to dinner at a nice restaurant. As we talked and laughed, the Russians sitting near us (who were clearly inebriated) started to look and giggle in our direction. Towards the end of our meal, one of them turned to us with a big smile and said in a heavy accent: "May I interrupt?" He then told us that they noticed we were Americans and thought we were funny, and they would like to toast us. So, they bought us all a round of vodka shots, and gave us a long toast (the toast in Russia is treated like an important event), ending it with "to our International friends!" We drank, and as music played in the background, they sang with us, and laughed and were very friendly. Sometimes, I couldn't tell if they were laughing WITH or AT us, but it was all in good fun!

Every day here I am faced with some sort of obstacle. While the people of most countries are slightly versed in English, and thus can usually communicate with Americans, most Russians don't speak a word. Menus are mostly in Russian, and ordering food is a challenge. Many waiters and cashiers are sweet and friendly about it, but some are very impatient and pushy, and the experience can be very stressful, especially when there is a line of people waiting behind you to order. While there is a Western-style supermarket, it tends to be ridiculously overpriced, so we moslty buy groceries at places called "Productee." Basically there is a woman at a counter, the groceries are behind her, and you have to tell her what you want. As you can imagine, this can be very difficult, considering the women at the counters don't speak a word of English. Usually, the task entails us pointing at different foods and saying "Moshna?" which loosely means "May I?" Then, the women will point to the different choices and we will enthusiastically shout "Da" ("Yes") when she points at the one we want. But, as we're learning more food words in our Russian class, the task is slowly becoming a little easier.

The Russian women are so gorgoeus, sometimes I don't know what to do with myself. Sure, there are the older "babushkas" who are very "old world" and not too attractive, but the average young woman is stunning. Considering the conservative gender roles, women are expected to "dress to the nines," so sometimes it looks like there are supermodels walking down the street! Every girl is better looking than the one before! Who knows, maybe I'll bring home some blonde Svetlana! I actually met a nice, beautiful Russian girl, a student at the same theatre school, who I've been spending time with, so we'll see if anything comes of it!

The sights in Moscow that we have seen thus far have been breathtaking. The Red Square, which holds the Kremlin and the world famous St. Basil's Cathedral (considered one of the wonders of the world), is almost spiritual. When I first visited the square at sunset, and approached the Cathedral, it looked like Disney world. Also in Red Square is Lenin's mausoleum, where you can walk through and see Vladimir Lenin's embalmed body. I haven't done it yet, but I heard it's quite chilling. The rules at the mausoleum are very strict: you are not allowed to bring in a bag, and you are not allowed to smile! I also visited Patriarch's Pond (a place made famous by Bulgakov's "The Master and Marguerita"), which was a very peaceful park with a beautiful pond, swans, a very small Central Park in the middle of this vast metropolis.

While life here is very different, and far less comfortable than in America, the experience of being thrown into an entirely different world is exactly what I wanted. Right now, I feel like I'm on a planet that resembles Earth, but it's this type of vulnerability that will help me grow as a person and as an artist. I'm still having the time of my life, and I am slowly adjusting.


The arts are so highly revered in Russia. To be an artist, be it in the Dramatic Arts, music, dance, and what have you, is considered among the highest callings for a person. Many of Russia's most well-respected artists are bowed to. A theatre actor can become a national celebrity. It is incredible to be in a place where the arts are so respected and non-elitist. Tickets to performances, while the more popular ones can be expensive, are relatively affordable. Many of the top ticket prices are as low as $50 to $60 dollars, as opposed to the $110 Broadway prices. Some tickets can be as low as $2 to $5. Russia, believe it or not, has a literacy rate in the high 90's percentage, so most people are very well versed in literature and the arts. You mention Pushkin or Chekhov, and most people can recite pieces of their work to you. Our group leader said that she has had some of the most intellecetual conversations about theatre with common, working-class people. There is so much art and culture surrounding us, countless plays, ballets, operas. It is truly like a Mecca for an artist. And best of all, with our Moscow Art Theatre School ID cards, we can get free tickets to just about any performance in town.

Theatre in Moscow is unlike anything I've seen before. I can see why it is considered some of the best theatre in the world. While the plays I have seen have been entirely in Russian, the language has not been a barrier in the slightest. The actors are so physical and honest, one can figure out the story and relationships merely in their faces and gestures. Also, the production values are stunning...sometimes very minimal, but stunning nonetheless. While you won't find exploding chandeliers and revolving sets in many theatres, the lights, sounds, and visuals are beautiful and thought-provoking, and the imagery is usually awe-inspiring. I saw a production of Chekhov's THE SEAGULL at the Vokhtangov Theatre last week, which changed the way I look at a piece of theatre. The movements, music, dance, physicality, lights, and sounds, were so perfectly unified, that one felt as if they weren't just watching a play, but a work of art on stage. The actors remained so honest and real in such a heightened atmosphere. It was truly inspiring to watch. Many of the plays are long...since theatre is so respected here, audiences are happy to sit in a theatre for 3-4 hours for any given play. But the plays are usually very compelling to watch, especially for an American not used to this kind of theatre. And while in America, you mostly see elderly people at the theatre, here you see people of all ages and types.

So far, I've seen THE SEAGULL, Gogol's LANDOWNERS OF THE OLD STYLE and McDonaugh's THE PILLOWMAN at the Moscow Art Theatre, SWAN LAKE at the Bolshoi Ballet (it was amazing to see some of the best dancers in the world perform Tchaikovsky's classic with a 40+ piece orchestra), and the opera THE QUEEN OF SPADES at the Bolshoi Theatre. Our program sends us to see tons of performances, and I know we will soon be seeing THE CHERRY ORCHARD, RICHARD III, HAMLET, the ballet RITE OF SPRING, and the opera EUGENE ONEGIN. Also, a few friends and I are currently working out getting tickets to MAMMA MIA!, which should be hilarious considering it will be entirely in Russian, script and lyrics!


One of the highest honors of being here has been knowing that I am associated with the Moscow Art Theatre. This is considered the best theatre training school in Russia. For the four-year program for Russian students, about 8-10,000 hopefuls audition every year for about 25 spots. Thus, they train the best student actors in Russia. To be a part of such an institution is a dream come true. All of my fellow American students are very serious about their craft, and the working environment has been ideal.

The schedule is very demanding. We have class Monday through Saturday (it's been tough adjusting to a one-day weekend). We have class from about 9:30am - 6pm every day. Our classes are ACTING (which we have every day for 3 hours), MOVEMENT, BALLET, SINGING, HISTORY OF RUSSIAN THEATRE, HISTORY OF RUSSIAN CINEMATOGRAPHY, RUSSIAN LANGUAGE, SCENE DESIGN, and COSTUME DESIGN. The teachers, while warm, welcoming, and very kind, are not coddling. They demand 110% effort at all times. All of our classes are taught in or interpreted to English, except for BALLET.

My acting teacher, Michael (he goes by Misha) Lobanov, is known as one of the best acting teachers in Moscow. He has taught many nationally famous actors. The training is heavily ensemble-based. Russian training is all about ensemble...working with your fellow actors in a comfortable and safe environment. We have played a lot of fun games to help us get connected to one another and to get to know each other. Also, we've done some very tough exercises in sense memory, ensemble energy, connection to one's partner, and something called "psychological gesture." The training is based mainly on the Stanislavsky Method, which is the basis of modern acting training. We have started perfoming pieces called "etudes," which are basically a means of theatrical experimentation. For example, our assignment for this week is to choose an animal to physicalize in great detail. We must inhabit the animal to the smallest physical detail, and play an event in its life. We have also taken short stories, and theatricalized important moments/events from them...entirely in silence. Our next etudes will be based on our observations of people on the street. We are encouraged to find people around Moscow and try to inhabit their characteristics...and believe me, there are a lot of very interesting characters out there! The work is very difficult, and so far very hard to grasp, but very rewarding.

Our ballet teacher is phenomenal. Her name is Larissa Borisovna Dmitrieva, a former prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet Company. She is 70 years old, and still in prime shape. She is charming and adorable, but the very image of a tough Russian ballet teacher. She works us so hard, we are always sweating, hufiing and puffing at the end of every class. While we are panting and wheezing during the exercises, she just keeps screaming "PLIE!" "STRETCH" "STRAIGHT LEG" "JUMP" and the other few words in English or French that she knows. She is very hands on, which helps us a lot. I think she's also taken a particular liking to me, since she sees that I have some ballet experience from school. That class is our most physically demanding, and will definitely whip us into shape.

Our movement class is also very tough. Our teacher, Natasha, throws exercises at us that, while very painful, literally stretch us to our limits. She is stretching our bodies in ways and shapes we didn't know we could do. She is a protege of Droznin, who created the movement technique we are studying. He is considered one of Stage Movement legends of Russia, and several times in the semester, he will be coming to teach our class himself! So, basically, I am soar all day everyday...everywhere! But at this rate, my physicality is bound to improve tremendously by the end of the 3 months.

Our Theatre History teacher, Dr. Anatoly Smeliansky, is the director of the Moscow Art Theatre School, and I believe Artistic Director of the Theatre itself. He is an extremely important figure, often very busy because he has a meeting with, say, the Minister of Culture! His lectures are fascinating. He speaks near-perfect English, and his ability to tell a story is so compelling. He is one of the foremost Russian theatre historians in the world, having published dozens of books, collections, and translations.

So, basically, I am studying with some of the best of the best in terms of Russian training. It is in no way easy, but it is this kind of rigorous training that I wanted from this experience. I am loving every second of my training at the Moscow Art Theatre School. I've also been able to interact with many of the Russian students, who have been very welcoming. It is hard to find a lot of time with them, as their schedule is twice as rigorous as ours. They usually are working every day from 7 in the morning until at least midnight, non-stop, with maybe a few 15 minute breaks. Not even enough time to eat a real meal. We've seen some of the students' performances, and one can see how incredibly talented and well-trained they are. While they are always busy, we have had a few nights in the dorm with them to socialize and play music...many of them sing and play guitar.

Our dorm is brand-new, so it is really nice, one of the best dorms I have ever seen. It is only about a 30-minute walk from the school, and a very quick metro ride. My roommate, John-Michael Miller, is pretty much my best friend here. We connected immediately, as if we'd known each other for years, and we get along fantastically. We're very similar, and I can tell he is one of those life-long sort of friends, which is nice to have in such a foreign environment. The weather, until yesterday, has been sunny and gorgeous, very much like the Florida I am used to. However, for the past 2 days, the Russian weather has begun to strike. It has been getting colder and grayer and rainier, and I am awaiting the freezing chill and snow.

Anyway, that's it for now. If you made it this far through the email, THANK YOU and CONGRATULATIONS! I miss you all very much, and am thinking of you often. Please please please email me and let me know how you all are doing. I can't promise a quick response (at least not until they get our wireless up and running), but I'd still love to hear from you. Also, if you have some sort of long distance plan, and wish to reach me by phone, here are instructions on how to reach me:

It's a little complicated so try to follow along.

The country code for Russia is: 7

The area code for Moscow is 495

You can call any of these numbers to reach the dorm:


They should all reach the same answering service. Once you hear the answering message (it might be in Russian), dial 314 which is my room number.

Please remember that my time is 8 hours ahead. The best time to reach me is around 3-5 pm your time, which is later in the evening here (11pm-1am). I would give you my address if you wanted to send a letter or package, but apparently the international mail servie is so bad, it can take over 2 months for a package to arrive, so I figure it's not worth it. But please, email or call.

In my next email, I'll try to include some more pictures, but I'll attach a few I hope you like! The internet connection here won't let me send more than a few, so for those of you who have it, I'll try to post more on Facebook. I know some pictures of me have already been posted on Facebook, so you can take a look there if you have Facebook.

I wish you all the best!

With love,

Etai Benshlomo