Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Our "Big Green Pocketbook" Trip to Town

Sophia and I are reading a wonderful book, “The Big Green Pocketbook.”  It is such a simple, beautifully written book about a mom and daughter trip to town.  

I love reading it to Sophia, for many reasons, but mostly because it makes the English language come alive!  There are marbled walls that smell like pennies, keychains that clink, and square scoops of ice cream in sliver dishes . . . words soaked in and filling all our senses!  
This morning we decided to take our own trip into town and make a stop at our central Library.  We bundled up in all our winter warm clothes and walked to the tram stop.  
It was a beautiful sunny day. We held our faces to the sun (with eyes closed) and soaked it in! 

The library is located in the city center, on the corner of “Lenin St” and “Big Soviet St” - gotta love all the communist left-overs!  Our tram ride took us close, but not all the way there, so we enjoyed about a 15 minute “3 yr old” walk up the city street.  

I have always loved the old center of Smolensk.  The buildings date back hundreds of years and sit high up on several hills.  Down the main street, there is our Russian Orthodox cathedral.  And on a clear day, like today, the golden copulas shine!
Sophia was ready to get in the library and read all the books.  So, after a pic, we went in.  Like all Russian public buildings, immediately in the door there is a coat check.  We passed our coats and got chastised by the “Babushka”  for taking off all Sophi’s snow gear . . . she said it was cold in the library.  I decided to take it off anyway.  Sometimes you just gotta stand up for not smothering your poor child in clothing!  
We had to stop at the check in desk and get a ticket to visit the library.  We went to the 4th floor first to see a exhibition of needlework.  Our friend, Natasha, was one of the artists displayed. We stopped at each composition and commented on the colors, subjects, and read to see if it was Natasha’s.  Natasha is the mama of Sophia’s friend, Polina!  
After looking at the exhibition, we decided to check out the foreign language reading room.  When I lived in Smolensk before - over 10 years ago, now - I donated several English language videos to this section of the library and I was interested in seeing if they were still around.
We wound our way through the secret passages to the center of the downstairs (such a strange journey up and down tiny staircases) to the foreign language section.  The librarian asked our purpose and when I explained - she REMEMBERED me!  I was so happy to hear that the videos are still around and are used on a regular basis!  She gave Sophia and me several children’s books in English to look at and  while I was reading Sophia one about Curious George, she quietly went to her office and came back with a gift for Sophi - a little stuffed heart that says, “Ya tebya lublu”  (I love you) in Russian!  She invited us to come back any time.
After such a lovely visit with a friendly librarian, I decided to get a library card!  
Sophia and I found our way through the passages again and made it to the front desk.  I asked about getting a card.  The young woman at the counter was very helpful - took my passport, took my picture, and took my 30 rubles (about a dollar) and then, we ran into a problem . . . my lack of “ochestva.”  
Ochestva is every Russian’s middle name, derived from their father’s first name.  In English we call it a patronymic.  For example, if I was a “real” Russian, my name would be D’Anna Dewaynovna Yastrebova.  D’Anna Dewaynovna would sound different because the Russian language doesn’t have our “w” sound - so, to even confuse things more - my name would be D’Anna Devaynovna.  Believe me, NOT even close to ANY Russian name!  SO, I don’t use a patronymic - I just use my maiden name as my middle name (just as my mom always said I would!)  
The problem was that the library computer system was set up only for names with “ochestvas” and this threw our pretty young librarian for a loop.  She called the system engineer and he couldn’t fix it.  Finally, they decided to just give me back my money and forget giving me a card!  I panicked, “Wait!” I said.  “What if you just use my middle name as the ochestva.”  They both looked at me.  The young lady spoke up, “Only if you give us your permission.”   “Sure,”  I said, “No Problem.”  
In five minutes I was the proud owner of a Central Library reading card!  
Sophia and I walked back to the tram stop and road home.  Our trip into town had been much like the one described in “The Big Green Pocketbook.”  We had ridden public transportation, visited the town center, met interesting people, one lady had given Sophia something to remember our day, I filled out forms, but most of all, we had fun exploring a little part of our town together!

 The central steps of The Central Library!

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