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We’ve come back from Kostia’s family’s house in the country, to the land of internets and running water. I’m catching up on e-mails and things and will respond to comments soon!
OK, it’s not my motherland. A lot of people ask me if I have Russian ancestry, since there can’t possibly be any other explanation for an American Russophile, and all I can say is, does a name like Megan Lindsay Case sound Russian to you? Not that I couldn’t be Russian on my mother’s side or something, but no, I’m not Russian. Still, coming back feels like a return to reality in a way, as if my last 10 months in Sweden were just a dream…
On Tuesday I was pretty sad to wake up in Russia and not in Sweden. Our flat is pretty nice by Russian standards, though I feel like we live in a concrete box only barely concealed by some badly-laid linoleum. The worst part of it is how far we are from the center.
When we went to our old neighbourhood, Komendantsky Prospect, which is an end-of-the-line metro station, the other day, that felt like going to civilization. But look, the kitchen is big and bright and comfy:
Anyway, our location is only temporary and we plan to find something closer to the center in the fall. We’re lining up students and other work, and tomorrow we’ll go to Kostia’s family’s dacha for about a week. That will be nice. Kostia’s mom will feed us till we burst, we’ll go swimming in the river, eat shashlik, wash in the banya, drink milk fresh from the cow, be chased by aggressive turkeys when we go to get water from the well, and be eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Travel tips: Five years ago I rode the ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm for the first time. I met several other young travellers on board, none of us had booked a cabin and we spent most of the night hanging out. When I finally got too tired to stand, I went to the room where they had train-style seats for the cabinless passengers and got a bit of sleep. Our experience on Saturday night was rather different. For one thing, the ship we were on didn’t have the seats for cabinless passengers, so I got a few hours of fitful sleep on a bench and Kostia didn’t sleep at all. For another thing, the Saturday night ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki is full of booze-cruising Finns. Listen up: if you’ve never been to Finland before, do not take the Saturday night ferry from Stockholm, because you will get a very bad first impression of Finns, who, in all my other experiences, have been incredibly nice, normal people. It’s just that people aren’t at their best on a booze cruise. And the segment of society that likes to booze cruise as a way of spending the weekend isn’t exactly the most, um, as Russians would say, culturniy. So. Take the ferry, it’s a fun, scenic and cheap way to travel, but be sure to get a cabin and don’t take it on a Friday or Saturday night.
They’ve got a shiny new train on the Helsinki-St. Petersburg line! There are two trains between Helsinki and St. Petersburg daily, one Finnish and one Russian. The Finnish train is a typical European train, clean and modern and yada yada yada. The last time I took the Russian train, it was an old-fashioned Russian one, with closed compartments for six people each rather than rows of seats in pairs. The compartments had a sort of charm, but when we got to the station on Sunday and saw the sign that the train was fully booked, I was dreading it a bit, because the compartments are a lot less comfortable when filled to capacity, and furthermore I was dead tired from the night on the ferry and just wanted to go to sleep, and that’s nearly impossible in a compartment of six people with non-reclining seats. But when we got on the train on Sunday, it was new and clean and sleek and had seats in pairs rather than compartments! But, they retained the perk that the Finnish trains don’t have – a free snack. You can choose between the beer-salami-and-roll snack or the yogurt-juice-and-croissant snack. We had the former, of course. It was a real beer with 5.2% alcohol, not a Swedish lättöl, and a very generous portion of salami. Mmm.
In about two hours we move out of our beloved tiny little flat. Then we’ll run around town madly running errands (fortunately we have a friend with a car to help us out with this), spend the night at our friends Lenka and Dima’s place, take the ferry bus tomorrow morning, take the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki tomorrow night, and the train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg on Sunday.
So don’t expect to hear from me in the next couple of days. Next post will be from good old Russia!
Hooray, Kostia and I have got a place lined up in St. Petersburg, and we can move right in when we get off the train next Sunday night. The only bad thing about it is that it is in the zhopa, which is Russian for “the middle of nowhere”. We’ll be on the far northwestern edge of the city and will have to take a bus to the Metro. But the building is a newish one and the flat looks nice and spacious (for a one-room) and new and not at all Soviet.
Only a little over a week left in Sweden! So sad! But now that we are in this almost-gone phase, I am eager to get back to St. Petersburg and get the next phase of real life started.
Yesterday was Sweden’s National Day, which you’d think might be a big deal like the 4th of July or something, but apparently isn’t, not in comparatively non-nationalistic Sweden. Kostia heard on the radio that it only became a non-working holiday a couple of years ago. The events listed in the local paper were just a children’s orchestra and then, later, a choir at the copper mine. No fireworks or anything. There wasn’t even much of a line at Systembolaget on Tuesday afternoon, the true measure of a holiday’s importance.
I may have found evidence of more activity had I left the house yesterday, but I was in a rare productive mood and decided to take advantage of that to work on my thesis. I even turned down an invitation to a picnic at a lake, which is a shame because the weather is so beautiful. But I got an awful lot of reading and note-taking done.
However, to prove that I’m not completely boring, last weekend there was a festival/carnival thing here in Falun and Kostia and I checked it out on Friday night. The main square in Falun, which is deserted most of the time and sprinkled with drunk teenagers on major holidays, looked like this:
(click to enlarge)
Performing on stage in this photo is Marie Lindberg, who competed in this year’s Melodifestivalen, which is the process by which Sweden chooses its Eurovision Song Contest entry. I’d seen pictures of her on magazines and stuff and thought she looked really cute and down-to-earth (and she is, apparently, being, until recently, an amateur musician and humble Swedish teacher), but didn’t know anything about her music, having seen only one installment of Melodifestivalen which wasn’t one of the ones she performed in. At this festival I connected the dots. Her song is a boring ballad with absolutely cringeworthy English lyrics that Kostia and I make fun of every time it comes on the radio. The most interesting thing about it is that it in the line “when love becomes sacrificing”, she pronounces it as “sacrifiZing”, over-correcting for the “Z” sound often missing from Swedes’ otherwise excellent English pronunciation. I can think of a few Swedish artists she could donate that unnecessary Z to. In any case, even though her hit song sucks, she’s still cute and down-to-earth and I wish her the best in her musical career, which seems to be taking off nicely.
Sweden is a very family-friendly country and at these kind of events I always see a lot more small kids than I expect, which is nice. Sweden is also a health- and safety-obsessed country, and so most small kids at concerts wear these headsets to protect their hearing:
We saw a lot of these that evening, and also at the hard rock festival that we briefly checked out a week ago. I didn’t write about the hard rock festival, but I really wish I had taken some pictures there. The goth/punk look is very popular with teenagers in Falun. It actually seems to be the standard of dress for them. Here’s a not-very-good picture of some Falun teenagers:
Since, unfortunately, most people have to stop dressing like that when they get a job, I fully support teenagers dressing that way while they can. I wish I had had more piercings in my youth, because it’s too late now. In any case the funny thing about Swedish punk/goths is that under their brand-new badass H&M gear they look so clean and healthy. Here punk is not a lifestyle, just a clothing style. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation.
My whining about the weather seems to have touched the heart of Thor, who cleared up the clouds the day after my White Days post. It’s been summerlike ever since, complete with sunrise at 4 a.m.
I’m happy to say that yesterday I got 15 pages of thesis into a state decent enough for me to be willing to show them to my advisor. I need to get as much done as possible before we go back to Russia, though, since I won’t have access to books and free internets there. They don’t really have public libraries as we know them in St. Petersburg. Simply to enter the big National Library on Moskovsky Prospect in St. Petersburg you have to have a library card, and to obtain a library card requires showing your diploma from an instituion of higher education. Can you believe you can’t go to the library unless you have a college degree?!? I suppose it’s one way of keeping the homeless from sleeping there. In any case, I’m going to try to get myself a library card this summer, but undoubtedly there are some extra administrative hurdles for foreigners, so I have modest hopes. So I’d better go home and get back to the reading and writing.
Edit: Kostia says that there are, in fact, local libraries in neighborhoods in St. Petersburg which you have to have a library card to enter, but do not require a university degree to get a library card.
I still need to put my list of links to “Things I Like About Russia” on this blog, and I’ll do it soon, I promise.
This outrageous story I saw on BitchPhD reminded me of one of the things I really like about Russia: a lot of medication that is prescription-only in the U.S. (and most certainly in heavily-regulated Sweden where you can’t even buy aspirin outside of the state pharmacy monopoly) can be purchased over-the-counter in Russian pharmacies. From a public health perspective this is probably a really bad idea, but for the individual who feels competent enough to do her own research about medication, it is extremely convenient.
By the way, today is the five-year anniversary of the first time I set foot in Russia.