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Click on this post’s title for a beautifully-written, funny, and very real account of a foreign student’s six months in St. Petersburg. My first sojourn here in 2002 bore a lot of similarities to it, and I suppose my current existence still does, though this time round I feel a lot less bewildered and am most definitely lot more pampered.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well, but I love public transportation. Americans are supposed to associate automobiles with freedom, but I love the idea that you can get around the city, or indeed around the world, without having to worry about parking, repairs, insurance, gas, and accidents, and with only the pack on your back. And of course there are the environmental arguments, yada yada yada.
I love trains best of all, and the best of all trains are the ones that go underground and get you all over the city efficiently. I love the fact I have to ride the metro every day here. In Washington, it was a hell of a lot faster for me to bike to work than ride the metro, but I always secretly wanted to be a metro person.
Each metro/underground/subway system has its drawbacks, and St. Petersburg’s is that every rush hour reminds me of the New Year’s Eve I spent in Times Square worrying I’d be crushed to death, but I’ve even gotten accustomed to that. I love people-watching, and I appreciate the opportunity to try to improve my Russian vocabulary by reading inane advertisements and the free newspaper they hand out.
I like to time the distance between stops and between trains, and calculate where I need to wait on the platform to have the speediest transfer or the shortest distance to the exit at my destination. I automatically factor in the 3.5 minutes it takes on each end to ride the escalators so that I can be punctual, though I’m also one of the people who sprints down the escalator when I’m running late. It isn’t possible to sprint UP the escalator unless you’re one of the first ones on it, because there’s such a high volume of ridership that there’s not really room to stand-right-walk-left, and furthermore, these are the longest escalators you’ve ever seen, so to walk up you have to be prepared for some serious physical exertion. I think I’ve managed it three times.
So for a metro geek like me, what could be better than a new metro stop opening this weekend? The fact that it’s right next to a certain somebody’s house.
So one of the best things about the Russian language is that you can make pretty much anything little and cute with the addition of a suffix or two or three. The more suffixes, the better.
So there’s this word in use at the kindergarten, which no one else I know seems to be familiar with: pomogalochka. It’s from the verb pomogat’ — “to help”, and I suppose literally it should mean “little helper”, but in our classroom it’s used to mean “a small piece of bread which you use to shove food on your fork or spoon rather than using your fingers.” All the kids know this word, and have taken to asking for their pomogalochki at lunch. It’s pretty funny.
So yesterday I was hanging out in a cafe, and I looked across the room and saw a very manly-looking person with earrings, a cowl-neck sweater, and long painted fingernails, cuddled up next to a man, having what looked to be a pretty serious conversation. I do believe I saw my first Russian transvestite.
It was heartwarming, because the atmosphere is pretty homophobic here. I mean, surely a certain amount of gender-bending goes on behind closed doors, but in public? Never. The cafe in question is close to the main university campus, and therefore more likely to be populated with enlightened folks I suppose, but nonetheless, I was pleasantly shocked.
Daylight savings time started yesterday. Since St. Petersburg is practically in the next westward time zone anyway, this makes the day pretty lopsided. Sunrise was around 7:30 this morning, but it’s 9:00 p.m. and it’s still twilight! And it’s March.
Y’all may be sick of the weather and sunlight report, but this sort of thing fascinates me.
Reading Brian’s latest blog entry made me laugh, and made me think I should make some kind of comment about Easter.
The Russian Orthodox Church uses a different calendar than the rest of the Christian world, so the holidays are never at the same time as the ones I’m used to. Being a devout Agnostic-Buddhist-Unitarian raised in an unreligious household, religious holidays mean fuck-all to me, but you know, you grow up with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the year is forever delineated by these events.
The St. Petersburg Times (twice-weekly free paper in English mostly read by tourists and expats) usually makes passing reference to western religious holidays, like “West Christmas is on December 25th this year.” Last week it mentioned that “West Easter” (isn’t that great? I’ve decided to contract it to Wester) was on Sunday, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have remembered. As it happened, I was hosting a small dinner party and halfway through I suddenly felt like I should be eating a ham rather than the quasi-Indian food I’d prepared. Which was all the more weird because I always thought my mom’s Easter ham was nasty.
I must apologize for being less regular about my posting. The thing is, now that I’m working at the kindergarten five days a week, most of my stories fit for public consumption involve three-year-olds saying cute things, which is nice I suppose, but I don’t want this to become The Kindergarten Blog!
I will say this, though — today Tima, who is one of the youngest and newest kids in the kindergarten, who barely talks in Russian, let alone English, suddenly started saying my name and one of the other teachers’ names. He was being all cute and cuddly and pointing to me and saying “Megan!” Awww.
Recently I was asked whether working with children encourages or discourages my “maternal instincts.” I guess it discourages them, not because the work is unpleasant, but because the instincts in question are more than sufficiently fulfilled by spending a few hours with kids at their very cutest age, reading them stories and feeding them soup — then I get to leave and get drunk and watch R-rated movies and go out with friends and not have to worry about being responsible for anyone else. Not to mention not having to deal with diapers (nappies, that is, at the British Kindergarten) and a household littered with toys, eek. So, really, it’s the perfect arrangement. But I suppose this is the selfish attitude of the postmodern twentysomething urban dweller and is symptomatic of the breakdown of the family in western society. My apologies, western society.
OK, no more snide remarks about Russian spring. For, even though it’s not quite like other springs I’ve known, the sun is out, I’ve heard some birds chirping, and it’s above freezing, at least for a few hours a day. That’s right folks!
Plus, there’s starting to be mud everywhere rather than just ordinary dirt. Mud is something I can relate to. At my college in rural Massachusetts, with its unpaved roads, we had tons of mud every spring. We called it mud season. And all of us little hippie kids would stop being depressed, and we would and go outside and frolic and do lots of what teenagers do best. :-) Yes, this is the true meaning of spring.