Monthly Archives: July 2010

Shi DA Kasha Pisha Nasha

“It takes an axe sometimes a fetter in the sunshine and bad weather it’s a matter of getting deeper in, anyway you can.”

-weepies.

I am fully aware that this is perhaps the height of arrogance, but sometimes I feel like everything that has transpired here over the past several hundred years has all been in preparation for my coming. A stage being set, waiting for my arrival.

As if Russia is just one ginormous surprise party thrown in my honor.

I was starving for food for thought and there are street vendors and neighborhood markets on every corner. There is so much for me to observe and look at and experience. It’s like a big mental playground. It’s like, Discovery Zone, and I got to rent out the entire facility for myself.

Some of the things that have really tickled my fancy
-The elevator in the dorms doesn’t go to my floor, so I have to take it up an extra story and walk down the stairs.
-The desks at school and in the dorm aren’t wide enough for the chairs to fit under so they just stick out awkwardly.
-Going into/out of the metro at Premorskaya the hand rail on the escalator moves faster than the stairs so you have to keep readjusting your position every 20 seconds.

I feel like with just a tweak here and there these problems could be resolved, but in Russia, like I’ve alluded to before, you just learn to live with them.

But these are the obvious things, that lead you to the most obvious conclusions about Russia. Any casual tourist or summer exchange student could make these hasty observations about the quirkiness of Russia and happily hop on the plane home.

The thing is, my plane home isn’t for another month.

I guess since I came all the way out here and everything, and since there is nothing better to do, I want to scratch beneath the surface.

Two weeks ago my friend Katya from Volgograd showed up at church. Walking around the city with her and Sasha I became painfully aware of my position as an outsider, and I found myself desperately wanting to be a part of things here, at least as much as possible.

So that night I started praying. I needed people who I can speak Russian with and all of my roommates had been English speaking. I want to understand what it means to grow up here, to call this place home. I want to be able to communicate better. But I need people who are interested in being friends with me. At home, I can be resiliant and persevere despite of the level of intrest expressed by the other party in being my friend, but here, I can’t overcome the language barrier AND lack of interest.

Which is how I ended up at church the Wednesday after that. Yana tells me, that she wasn’t planning on going to institute but had a feeling she should go. To make a long story short, with in half an hour of meeting each other, she’d already invited me out with her friends, and asked if I wanted to move in with her and her other roommate Toma for the rest of my time here.

Which is how I ended up living in this turn of the century communal apartment just off of Maly Prospyekt, Vasiliostrovsky Island, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Yana is 19 and if you asked me to describe her in three words, I’d only need one; sassy. Everyone is in need of something she has to offer. Toma is 25 and works, maybe selling souvenirs or maybe trying to get people signed up for boat tours of the canals or maybe both. She complains that I eat too many dry foods and is annoyed that I buy my drinking water. I’ve decided I’m ok that she’s annoyed with those things

We live in one room, and share a bathroom and kitchen with an old man in a room to our right, and a middle aged couple to our left. Small victory today, I talked to Anatolee Nicholiavich, the old man, who I originally thought hated me, and I think he’s warming up to me.

Every now and then I’ll think of my bike or a friend, or about my fall schedule, and I can hardly believe that I have a whole other life waiting for me up on a shelf. It feels like this is all I’ve ever known…almost.

In the mean time I will continue to feast at every street vendor and corner market. Hachapoori. Pirodjki. Kvas. Morse. Sirok. Sharuma. Smitana. Kasha. And borshe of course.

 

 

a picture is worth a thousand swords

In the zoological museum among many other fantastic things, these fish are on display. They are the net result of Stalin’s master plan to crossbreed a tasty fish that could feed the masses during the great war.

Boat tour. We bought our guide (white shirt, microphone) ice cream. His name was Kiril. Soooo cute.

Not ultra flattering picture of me, but here is Katya from Volgagrad and elena

at the end of the day someone has to take the giant wax avatar inside. You can’t just leave him out all night.

 

Five dollars if you can name this famous Russian Land Mark.

Me, Ilaria, Yana, and New girl Rachel from Utah State University. My new apartment.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost all my pictures, almost single handedly burnt down the dorms and had a delicious slice of cake

That’s right. No pictures this week, i accidentally deleted them all. I also set my favorite scarf on fire. Must remember to not become to attached to material things.

I accidentally went on a date. Salle (Sall-AY) is from Algeria. He’s cute in an awkward foreign sort of way. His Russian is terrible, but better than his English and my French AND my Arabian put together, so we speak in Russian. We take the metro to a park on the outer limits of St. Petersburg. I can be kind and patient on two conditions. First condition, that there is no one else I’d rather be on a date with, unfortunately for him there is. (Perhaps I have not introduced you to the clever and affable Sasha?) This condition is negotiable if you are an otherwise entertaining, engaging, or interesting person. My second condition however is nonnegotiable and not, under any terms, will I budge. Do not touch me or put the moves on me. Period. You make that mistake buddy, and you’re toast. At that point I won’t even feel guilty for being annoyed. Unfortunately for me, Salle is an opportunist and street traffic and metro lines are open invitations to “steer” me around by the shoulders or the waist. Admittedly it is a subtle and otherwise harmless gesture. But his terrible Russian is a constant reminder I’m not with the person I want to be with. (I check my phone for the umpteenth time. Why hasn’t Sasha called me already?!) And he’s persistent, to the left, to the right, to the left again, it was all I could do not to turn around and shove him down to the ground. If I want to walk into oncoming traffic Dammit it’s my right and don’t even try to stop me or so help me I’ll…I’LL…smile and pretend nothing is wrong.

My trip to Vishni Volochoke was quite the adventure – highlight of which was having to jump/be pulled onto a moving train. Most of you have already heard my dramatization, but I recommend everyone give this a try at least once in life.

Instead of being in the city we actually were driven half an hour into the country side where there is an artist’s retreat, surrounded by dachas. Sarafim’s brother Berry put it this way; in “town” there are two little corner markets directly across the street from each other, in a town of five people, “And it takes two people to run each store, so basically you have one guy who just goes back and forth all day buying vodka.”

Pretty accurate description, he only forgot to mention the two stray dogs that loomed outside and would take turns escorting us on our mile and half walk back to the art studio where we were staying.

Sarafim is the serious painter though, he’s studied before in Russia and in Georgia (not the state). He gives me a quick literacy of Russian painters, the famous and the ones he loves. My favorite story is about Mikhail Vrubel. He was rumored to have stood by an open window intentionally catching his death of the cold. After the death of his son at the turn of the century he became increasingly mentally unstable and was committed to a mental hospital. His work became increasingly dark and he frequently painted demons (obsessed with Lermontov’s Demon). One painting is called, “Demon Downcast” and is hanging in a museum in Moscow. After it first went on display, Vrubel continued to come in night after night, after the crowds had left to repaint the face. He eventually gave up painting after losing his vision. I haven’t looked online to see the painting yet, I’m planning a trip to Moscow and I want to see it for the first time in person.

I feel like I’ve finally crested my initial culture shock. The indicators are I’m no longer intimidated in the mornings by the thought of having to face another day of bus travel and unkind faces. I have given into my love for buckwheat and oatmeal and I hardly notice the things I used to gawk at, the metro, the high heels, the Mullets.

Have you ever felt like you spent 23 years in solitary confinement and then it’s augmented by the sudden denial of visitor privileges and you don’t even know what you’re in for and you just keep waiting for someone to come unlock your cell and tell you you’re free, you’ve served your time – but then it occurs to you that perhaps with the help of a blunt force weapon and an impressive surge of adrenaline and muscle you might be able to burst through the bars, rent the walls and just waltz out into the sun never looking back?

Have you ever chased down a train and just when you thought it had overtaken you and all hope was lost, there, just a few feet ahead, taking a cigarette break…
“GIRL!” wide-eyed “Where are you going?!?!”

“WAGON FIVE! FIIIIIVE!!!”

He rolls his eyes and moves to pull out a hand-held two way radio transceiver to alert the conductor to at least slow down.

Wait, no. That’s not what he’s doing. He’s holding his hand out to me. “No,” he shrugs, “Come on!!!”

“I CAN’T, I CAN’T!!!”

“You Have to!!!”

I heave my back pack up, tuck my water bottle under my free arm, he grabs my other at my wrist and above my elbow, braces himself

1…

2…

3…

waiting by the phone,
Marla.

 

“Let them eat cake” – Abraham Lincoln

Quick update.
My birthday is next week. Michelle reminded me of that. I’m kind of proud that I forgot about my own birthday. Well. That’s not exactly true, everytime I go to the grocery store, I take my time oogling the cakes, drooling over them and fantasizing which one I’ll try for my birthday. Whenever it comes.

The last birthday I spent in Russia I had a really hard time picking out a cake, and it turned into this life lesson on what to base my decisions on.

First I picked out a cake because it looked middle of the line, not boring, not too flashy, so maybe it tasted good. (My experience was, the flashier it looked the worse it would taste). Then I picked out a banana cake because I knew already that I love banana. But then – Sister Taylor said “Sister King get this cake it’s called Prague!” When I looked at the cake she was pointing at, I recognized it as the middle of the line cake I’d originally picked out. It was a sign, it was fate. That was my cake. I decided to put it to a test. If the cake was delicious that meant coincidences/signs/etc. SHOULD determine the path I would follow. If it were dry/bland/and or dull then I should stop leaving things up to fate and start calling the shots based on reason or logic or something else like that.

In the end, the cake wasn’t the best, but it definitely wasn’t the worst. I don’t think it mattered, I mean, it’s a cake, of course it doesn’t matter. What I mean is, any cake I would have gotten in Russia was bound to disappoint me a little. At least this one had a thin layer of alcohol in the center to help keep it moist.

Inconclusive results though if you ask me.

Maybe that’s why I’m still to this day, deliberating over the same question. Actually, come to think of it. I’ve been grappling this one for years. Huh. Well, I guess it’s just one way of making decisions, but at least I’m still making them.

Going to Vichney Volochoke for the weekend with Ilaria, to visit her fiancee Sarafim and his brother, Barry.

It’s a pretty remote village from what I hear, I’m really looking forward to getting out of the city for a small vacation. Ha. I’m vacationing on what might be considered already a vacation.

Happy Independence day to all back in the states. Just some food for thought:
This is the second 4th or July I’ll spend in Russia. Naturally I can’t help but think about the two different countries, their politics, their history, their culture and their people and draw up an interesting compare and contrast.
Historically Russians are known for being able to hang in there. Ilaria says it this way: they are prepared to suffer. I think of it as being hut builders. It’s a way of orienting yourself towards life, dealing with what comes to you as opposed to assertively going out and creating your own circumstances. If you want to say someone is successful at something, a standard Russian construction is to say: yemu povezlo, or it was given to him (he is lucky). My Russian professor often talks about how she wonders why Russia and America, both large industrialized nations that share much in common have had such different destinies.  

I think it’s a matter of values, a matter of principle.

American’s have the cultural heritage of the American Dream. They’re raft builders. They’ll suffer, if it’s for a good reason, if they choose to. If someone is successful it has nothing to do with luck, he makes his own luck.

I think I’m more Russian sometimes than I am American. I can do what I’m told. I can go with the flow. I can be patient, I can suffer and live through just about anything. But ask me what cake I want for my birthday…

 

Pictures

Forgot to post the picture of the ship. Xanga doesn’t allow for very high quality uploads but, in person this picture is really impressive…well, so I’ve heard.

Nosebleed section. Litterally, the guys in the box over got in a bar brawl during the overture of Swan Lake. Just kidding. Not kidding. kidding.

Michaelovsky Theater. Love the pin-hole function on my camera.

 

For Tracy.

For Annie.