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There’s a decent Japanese restaurant just a block away from my house, and today I discovered that they have a Japanese grocery too! Overpriced, but good for healthy treats. I’m eating wasabi peas now. Mmm.
Well, I’m getting my Petersburgian life in order. I’ve got my warm boots and coat (the latter being like a sleeping bag with fake fur trim), our apartment is mostly unpacked, arranged, furnished, and decorated, and today I went to the university to sign up for Russian lessons.
When I was here in 2002 I took classes for three months in the Russian for Foreigners program at St. Petersburg State University, which was a very positive experience. The teachers are great; you meet lots of other foreign students; it’s flexible, so you could come for a week or a year; they have cultural events and optional classes like Russian folk music that you can just drop in on; and you get a very useful student card which entitles you to discounts and Russian Price at museums and concerts.
So I went to the office to sign up for classes, and said to a woman at the administrative office “I’m a new student” and the woman next to her said “No, she’s an old student.” How nice to be recognized!
I’ll start classes tomorrow. I had a choice between two groups, an easier one which had a lot of students in it and a more difficult one with fewer students. I chose the latter, but I can switch if it’s too hard. According to the class roster almost all the students are Chinese, which in my experience is cool, I love those crazy Asian kids, but it makes Phonetics class really irritating — pronunciation is my strong point and always a huge challenge for native speakers of Asian languages, so sitting there listening to them mangle the language gets old fast. Oh well.
The group meets 9:30-12:40 every day, which is a good schedule, but I’ll have to work hard to wake up that early — the earliest I’ve woken up since we moved into the apartment is 9:30! I’m not a complete lazy ass, I just find it genuinely physically difficult to wake up when it’s still dark out. But there’s no choice this far north!
Travel geeks — create a map of countries, states, and Canadian provinces you’ve visited. Though it’s kind of misleading — I mean, it looks like I’ve covered the entire northern hemisphere, when in fact I haven’t been to Western Canada and I’ve only been to one corner of enormous Russia. (Hopefully, that will change this year, though.)
Last night there was a rare clear sky and the moon was so bright. I woke up this morning at around 6:30 and saw an intense white light shining in my window, and I thought it was a spotlight positioned on the opposing building, shining directly into my room. Startled, I came to full consciousness. Then I realized, “Wow! It’s the moon!”
…but Terry posted his digital pictures from our first day in Paris. You can view them here:
So, it’s Thanksgiving, though it doesn’t really feel like it. I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving last year either — I had taken the holiday weekend as an opportunity to go to Toronto to visit friends and the day just sort of passed without my noticing.
Today it’s a little different. I’m sitting in my apartment in St. Petersburg, observing the workmen putting the finishing touches on, amusing myself by surfing the web, and realizing that I’m not going to get too many e-mails or see many blog updates because it’s Thanksgiving and all the Shit Americans are eating turkey and watching football.
I had wanted to have a Thanksgiving/housewarming party this weekend, but it looks like we’ll be putting together IKEA furniture, and having the housewarming a few weeks from now instead. Too bad. I actually like Thanksgiving a lot. It seems kind of un-American in a way: eating home-cooked food and being grateful rather than eating McDonalds and taking everything for granted.
I do try to reflect each year on what I’m thankful for. This year I am thankful for:
1. Having the opportunity to come to St. Petersburg for a year, at little personal expense. Thanks, Aunt Kelly (and multinational capitalism, yikes)!
3. Anand. (Aww, so cheesy.)
4. Fate, for giving me decent brains, decent health, and a lot of good luck.
5. The internet, for its usefulness in meeting people and keeping in touch with them, and for wacky flash animation.
The theme of the month is cartoon-pig-shaped foodstuffs. After the Petit Cochon in Aix-en-Provence, there was another marzipan pig (two, actually) that I bought in Paris the night before leaving for Russia. In ordering them I uttered what was possibly my only complete sentence in French the whole time I was there: “Je prend un petit cochon, mais avez-vous une boite?” I was told I could only have a box if I bought two pigs. Those pigs, while not as cute as the Aix pig, were really good — they had cake inside.
Last Friday, I had some kind of mystery meat wrapped in a pig-shaped pastry shell in a really great little Russian cafe.
Today I explored my neighborhood thoroughly, and on the way home walked past the bread window on my block. Beaming down at me from the window: a raisin roll shaped like a pig face. So cute, so affordable (9 rubles!), so tasty, and so nearby. I forsee many pig raisin rolls in my future.
Today I went to the post office to mail something for Aunt Kelly. There is a post office two blocks from our apartment and it is open 10.00-20.00. (Have I mentioned that the Russian sense of time works really well for me? Office hours are like 10-6 and shops are open until 9 pm at least.)
So I go in, and there are a lot of people in there, but they’re all at the windows where you cash government checks and stuff (I saw another line outside a government building today — must be some kind of official payday).
I go to the window that sells stamps, and I stand there waiting for the woman behind the window to look at me or say something (which is a habit I must break — being politely reserved gets you nowhere in Russia as we are about to see).
Just as she says “I’m listening” without looking at me, a woman barges in, sticking her arm in front of me and budging me out of the way, asking to buy an envelope. So they conduct this transaction, and I look at the woman incredulously, because unlike many times when I’m observing my gratuitous American sense of distance and someone cuts in front of me in line (as had happened in the Metro just a few minutes before), in this case I was DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF THE WINDOW. So I’m staring at the woman, and eventually she looks at me. Does she apologize, or even give me the Russian smugly-superior look?
No. She asks me to help her hold her plastic bag open so she can shove the envelope inside.
At that instant it became clear to me that there was no point at taking umbrage at the situation because no one within a square kilometer of the place would have interpreted it as rude — only me with my American sensibilities.