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Yesterday when Aunt Kelly and I were getting tickets for the Andy Warhol exhibit I decided not to bother trying to get a Russian citizen-priced ticket, but to try to get a foreign student ticket instead, even though I didn’t have any of my expired IDs on me. People always think I’m a student anyway. I don’t feel guilty about this because as a foreigner working in Russia I’m supposed to be eligible for Russian price, but you never know whether the lady in the booth is going to be a bitch about it or not.

Anyway, after asking for one foreigner ticket and one foreign student ticket, the woman in the booth tried to explain to us in halting English that several rooms of the exhibit were closed and we might want to come back another time. I replied in Russian that we’d go to the exhibit anyway, and she said, “OK, and I’ll give you a Russian citizen ticket.” Whether she was impressed with my Russian or just felt bad that we’d be paying so much for an abbreviated exhibit, I’m not sure.

Today I was walking down Sredny Prospekt on Vasilevsky Island, the sun was shining brightly (real sun, not the “useless December sun” of one of Kostia’s stories), some birds were chirping, and I felt like spring was in the air. Mind you, it was (just) below freezing. But this kind of weather IS typical for a St. Petersburg March, so it is springlike by some standards. I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad for me to be adapting like this.

I took my camera out this afternoon, and there were a lot of good photo opportunities, but it turns out batteries don’t like the cold. Grr. Here are a few shots anyway.

Secretly-taken photo of cute elderly couple in a trendy cafe. Seeing an old couple in a restaurant is a rarity, because most babushki are widowed and Russians on pensions have very little money. So it’s always heartwarming to see a nice old couple.

The Engineers’ Castle

Artsy photo

The Marble Palace, where there’s an Andy Warhol exhibit right now

Aunt Kelly next to the entrance gate, cyanotype

The Kostia has translated a few of his short stories into English and put them on his site. If you’ve clicked on the “Konstantin the Brave” link on the left and got scared off by all the Cyrillic letters, click again and scroll down a bit til you see normal ones. :-)

Needless to say I really like the stories, but I’m pretty sure I’d like them even if I wasn’t all personally acquainted with the author.

So, the very cold weather lasted about a week. The whole of Russia was colder than normal, and please remember that Russia is very very big. Apparently more energy was consumed in the last week than any other in Russian history. I know several people who went without electricity for 24 hours or more. Fortunately, most heating is gas.

I never got too cold, though. Mostly I was way too paranoid to get cold. For several days, whenever I went outside I was dressed in the following: tights, long underwear, knee socks, lined wool trousers, long underwear top, button-down shirt, wool turtleneck sweater, knee-length parka with hood up, hat, scarf, two pairs of gloves, and boots. Even then I can’t say I was toasty warm, but I was OK.

Now we’re back to more seasonable temperatures, but the supercold had some advantages:
1. Everything was dry, so all that slop on the sidewalks and streets was gone or frozen up.
2. People stayed home, so the streets were empty and the metro wasn’t crowded and it was kind of peaceful.
3. School was cancelled for several days (kindergarten wasn’t, but regular school) and so I didn’t have to teach the horrible eight-year-olds on Monday.
4. Excuse to stay indoors and sleep most of the weekend, which is, sadly, what I like to do best these days. Blame an exhausting job and the lack of sunlight.

They say this is only a brief reprieve from the frigidness, but we’ll see. In any case, now I know I can survive.

Just got a birthday present in the mail. My birthday is July 17. Is Anand a lazy ass? No, he in fact ordered it on June 22. It appears to have been shipped from Amazon’s German warehouse. It took seven months to get here. Jesus.

Ohhh it’s so cold. Last winter, my first in Russia, was relatively mild. I mean, I didn’t feel that way in February and March when it was between -10 and -15 centigrade (+5 Fahrenheit), but now that it’s -26 (-15 Fahrenheit), last winter does indeed seem like child’s play.

In fact, these are probably the coldest temperatures I’ve seen in my life. Thanks to global warming, I don’t remember any below-zero Fahrenheit temperatures since I was a kid in Upstate NY, and I don’t remember if it got as low as -15.

However, I’ve become such an expert at layering and bundling up, that I’ve hardly felt the cold. I haven’t lingered outside much, either, but still.

Kostia told me this morning that Russian dieticians recommend eating fatty meat to stay warm. Mmm.

Well, the most exciting events of the past few days have involved visits to my favorite medical clinic ever, EuroMed. I’ll spare you the details, but I can’t keep from chuckling about the fact that the word “festered” was used in the official diagnosis. (Family, don’t worry, it’s really nothing serious.) Here’s an unrelated story.


On Friday after work, I was getting on the Metro at the Primorskaya station. Since the station’s at the end of the line, you can always get a precious seat if you hurry on to the train when it comes, or if you’re willing to wait for the next one. So the train came, and I hurried on, and aimed for a spot that a middle-aged man was also aiming for. Noticing another place across the aisle, I headed for it and let the man take the first seat. But a very sweet-looking older lady had squashed over to make room for me between herself and Middle-Aged Man.

A St. Petersburg Metro bench has room for exactly six average-sized adults in bulky winter coats; seven is crushing even by Russian standards. So now there were six people sitting on the bench and room for about half a person between Middle-Aged Man and Nice Older Lady. I nodded at the lady to thank her anyway, and settled down to my full-sized spot on the other side. Just before the doors closed, a drunk guy in his mid thirties stumbled onto the train, forced his way into in the half-spot, and very, very vigorously elbowed Middle-Aged Man and Nice Older Lady, trying to defy the laws of physics and make the space bigger for himself. I raised my eyebrows and then looked away for a second, and when I looked back, a tall, fashionably-dressed man in his mid-thirties was leaning over from his standing position, and, in American parlance, smacking the drunk guy upside the head.

While I’m basically a pacifist and generally believe that violence does little to solve problems, I have to say that I thought this was just great. Fashion Man wasn’t hurting Drunk Guy, just trying to say, “Hey, you’re being a complete dick.” I wish this happened more often, people taking it upon themselves to stick up for strangers. Like, maybe there should be a trained force of ordinary citizens authorized to smack people upside the head for doing jerky things.

Of course, when you smack someone, there’s always the possibility that they’ll retaliate and it could turn into something ugly. So I watched this with some concern. Apparently Nice Older Lady felt this way as well and she sort of waved her hand at Fashion Man to stop. And Drunk Guy, really too incapacitated to fight back in any case, looked up at the guy in confusion and waved him off too, in a very pathetic, uncoordinated way.

I had been planning to get off in two stops, to transfer to another line and go to a cafe to kill some time before meeting up with Kostia after he finished work. But I decided to kill the time seeing what would happen with Drunk Guy instead. Nothing quite as exciting, unfortunately. Drunk Guy nodded off. Nice Older Lady and Fashion Man got off two stops later. A big round guy carrying a big bag sat down in Nice Older Lady’s place, but because there had been seven on the seat and Drunk Guy hadn’t moved over to make the spacing right for six, it was a tight fit for Round Guy. Drunk Guy elbowed him as well, but Round Guy just ignored it and when the person on the other side of him got up, he slid to the end of the bench. Then a tall middle-aged lady got on, and seeing Drunk Guy and the half-seat on either side of him, tapped him and gestured to him to slide over. He shook his head and Tall Lady sighed and sat down anyway, but he finally did slide over and pass out again.

We rode the train all the way to the other end of the line. When we got there, I got off with everyone else, but hung around to see if Drunk Guy would wake up or if he’d have to be booted off the train by a conductor. He managed to wake up on his own, and proceeded to stumble around the platform asking people for cigarettes. Most people just waved him off, though I saw one young woman in a white fur jacket run away from him. After I crossed to the other platform for my return trip, I could see our hero staring uncomprehendingly into a kiosk window.

Teaching the second-graders today was unpleasant as usual. I just don’t have the commanding authority necessary to keep them in line. Three- and four-year-olds I can handle, seven-to-nine-year-olds not so much. In fact, this one boy, Petya, had brought a knife, a really serious one, and when I told him he was going to have to go to the headmistress’ office, he said “I’m not going anywhere with you!” Of course, he didn’t have a choice, and while I was staring him down in the hallway a male teacher walked by and that seemed to intimidate him into listening to me.

Then I made the mistake of telling the children my age (29), and they were all like, “You’re older than my mom!” Now I’m used to some of the kindergarten moms being younger than me, and I’m used to the fact that Russians have kids way younger than Americans do, but still, I feel weird when multiple eight-year-olds tell me I’m three years older than their moms when the notion of having kids still seems like something I’m too young to do. I mean, of course I know I’m not, it just FEELS that way in my mind, OK? I guess I’m trapped in extended adolescence.

Which brings me back to my first point, how did I wind up trying to play the authority figure?

Today was the first day back at work after the 10-day holiday. (That’s right folks, the official, legal, government holidays were 10 days long. Can you imagine?) I don’t know if it’s because I was well rested or the kids were, but everyone was so nice and sweet and well-behaved today.

My New Year’s resolutions are:

1. Try to remain well-rested and unstressed, and

2. Always carry my Кофе Хаус buy-one-coffee-get-one-free coupons with me, because the chain is way overpriced (they even admit it’s overpriced by giving you these coupons every time you go, which effectively cuts the price of your coffees in half, making them on par with normal market prices) but inevitably you wind up in one every couple of weeks, bemoaning the fact that you left your coupons at home.

Aunt Kelly got back from the US on Saturday and we celebrated the holidays. Thank you thank you Mom, Grandma, Aunt Debbie and Aunt Barbara. I’ve wanted a digital camera of my very own for so very long, and have been putting it off for well over a year now. Now my blog readers will be subjected to all sorts of artsy-fartsy pictures of St. Petersburg.

The view from Kostia’s kitchen window. New high-rises in the sleeping districts.

I like the sepia option.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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January 2006