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It’s a working day here, but on the other hand, in the Russian pre-new-year’s flurry of activity a lot of my students have cancelled their lessons, so I’m having a relaxed week. The best part is that I don’t have any morning lessons, so I can sleep until 10, when there’s some light in the sky. Of course, I’m not earning as much money, but on the other hand I’m still earning more this week than I did in a week when I worked 40+ hours at that horribly exploitative kindergarten (though apparently salaries have improved there now), so I can’t complain.
Kostia and I had “the full cultural program” last weekend. On Saturday night we went to see Akvarium (check out that web site, it’s got six language options including Esperanto), which is really just one man, Boris Grebenshikov, since he writes all the songs and lyrics and the rest of the band’s personnel has changed over the past 35 years. It was a good concert, but I was a little disappointed because I kind of expected it to be The Best Concert Ever, since Grebenshikov is the God (or perhaps more aptly, the Buddha, since he’s all into the eastern religions) of Russian rock, and this is entirely deserved – his albums are incredible. In order to be the the best concert ever, though, it would have needed more energy, more polished playing on the part of the band and a better sound engineer. Kostia also suggested that for it to be the best concert ever we should have been standing in the orchestra pit rather than sitting in the theater seats, and drunk. Maybe so. Still, it was a good concert. Perhaps the most interesting part was seeing such a high concentration of nerds and hippies in one place – it was certainly a different part of St. Petersburg society than that which I usually see.
The second part of the full cultural program was going to see the sequel to “The Irony of Fate” on Sunday. It hasn’t received good reviews, but I actually enjoyed it a lot. The premise is weak and the sequel is only watchable as a sequel and not as a stand-alone film, but as a modern take (or perhaps parody) on the original it was really funny and well-done. Most importantly, it puts you in the New Year’s mood.
Last night Kostia and I celebrated Western Christmas by watching “Love Actually” and drinking Bailey’s. If you’ve seen it you know that this is an embarrassingly stupid movie, but Kostia really loves it for some reason and I find it amusing and don’t mind looking at certain British actors, so it seems watching it has become a Christmas tradition.
I’m not a pagan, but if I were to believe in any religion, paganism would make the most sense. More or less based on observable phenomena and all.
Mostly I’m happy about the solstice because it means the days won’t be getting any shorter; in fact, they’ll be getting longer. I’ll be thoroughly appreciating the extra few minutes of daylight every day.
Last night while half-asleep I was fantasizing about the White Nights. Summer and winter at this latitude are so radically different that it’s hard to imagine one when you’re in the middle of the other. It’s like you’re living in different universes at these two extremes, even if you’re living in the exact same apartment. If I could live in the White Nights universe year-round, I would. Only 5 months to wait!
A song Kostia wrote a few years ago, with the political bit updated. It’s got some flaws but I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out. It’s in Russian; here’s a translation of the lyrics:
All the rabbits and squirrels
all the boys and girls
all the uncles and aunties
celebrate new year
Even Putin, Vovochka
finds a present in its wrapping
under the presidential tree
for the last time
with salad “olivye”
is consumed everywhere
In Khabarovsk and in Murmansk
in Bobruisk and Noyabrsk
and even in Slantsy, come to think of it
no less than in Moscow
Fathers Frost in felted boots
for adults and kids alike
carry sacks stuffed with
the standard crap
Fluffy snow falls
and everyone is happy
and the fir trees sparkle
with garlands of lights
Happy New Year! Renewed joy!
Let all be well!
Drink! Sing! Smile!
Father Frost has already arrived.
The title is a quote from one of Kostia’s stories.
The sun is indeed pretty useless in this part of the world at this time of year. Here it is at 10.10 this morning:
Here it is a few minutes ago, at 2.00 p.m.
Not very high above the horizon, is it? It’ll set in an hour and a half or so.
Still, it’s nice to see it at all. Most of the time it’s overcast.
I just got back from a quickie trip to Moscow, where I got to meet for the first time two people who I previously knew only on the internets. I love when that happens, because despite the amount of time I spend on blogs and Facebook and stuff, I really am not one of those losers whose social life only exists in cyberspace. I love it even more when the people I meet are as lovely as Veronica (and Marta) and Julia.
I was reminded that I actually like Moscow. After my first trip to Russia in 2002, when I spent 3 months in SPb and a week in Moscow, I actually had this tentative plan in my head that I would return to Russia in a few years but live in Moscow. But then I had the chance to live in SPb with Aunt Kelly, and then I met Kostia, who is a confirmed Moscowphobe, and, well, the plan hasn’t materialized.
I like Moscow because it’s big and exciting, not as dirty as St. Petersburg, more cosmopolitan, and for all St. Petersburg’s self-congratulatory “we’re the cultural capital” stuff, obviously Moscow has at least as much culture. I’d also say it’s more “culturniy” – though I had the opportunity to ride the public transport during morning and evening rush hours yesterday, nobody pushed, shoved, or squished me unnecessarily. Why, Peterburzhtsi, why must you push so much?
On the other hand, not having been there in several years, it was a bit of a shock how expensive Moscow is compared to SPb, which itself is considered shockingly expensive to people from other parts of Russia. I hopped on a trolleybus (which had a card-reader machine and a turnstile rather than a conductor!), asked the driver if I could buy a ticket, and he said yes, of course. I had no idea what the fare was so I handed him 20 rubles thinking it would be plenty – the full fare for public transport in SPb is 14 rubles. “Devushka, 5 more rubles,” he said. Oy, how embarrassing!
I’ve been wanting to write a post about tomorrow’s Duma election all week, but I was too busy. Kostia’s gone to his hometown this weekend to vote; this evening I had a friend over to cook recipes from Gastronom and there was plenty of wine to go with it, so I don’t know if I’m in a state to comment on serious matters, but we’ll see.
A couple of weeks ago, a co-worker who is a graduate student who arrived here in September was excitedly showing me the United Russia brochures, bookmarks, and such that she had received from canvassers that day, and I realized that now I’ve been here long enough that I can’t just look at the election as some cultural curiosity and collect the brochures like souvenirs. But then again, I suppose I never look at any election like that. Some people would say that you don’t have much right being involved in politics in any country of your own. Some people would say you shouldn’t stick your snotty nose into other people’s business. But although it’s easy to be cynical about politics, politics is also about human rights, and in a globalized world, one country’s politics matters a whole lot to people in other countries. I’d be in favor of the whole world getting to vote for U.S. president, for example, because it seems the U.S. gets to decide international issues pretty much unilaterally.
I’m what’s known in the U.S. (or on Facebook at least) as “very liberal”, even though this is a misnomer to the rest of the world, since “liberal” means hard-core unfettered free-market capitalist. I’m somewhere between what Europeans would call a Social Democrat and a Green. Obviously there’s nothing on the Russian political radar for someone with my political views. Obviously if I were a Russian citizen I’d be as frustrated as my Russian friends, who have no real alternatives in this election. United Russia is going to win. The communists are going to get a few seats. Almost no one else has any hope.
If my students are any gauge, this is A-OK with most of the Russian population. One young woman in all seriousness told me that she couldn’t understand why Putin couldn’t run for a third term as president. So many students just said that Putin is the only person who can ensure that the relative stability of the past few years continues. So many people seem to think that the “democrats” or the “westernizers” had their chance in the 1990s and they screwed it all up. I would say they never really had a chance, but try arguing that with someone who lived through the ’90s in Russia.
Most Russians I’ve talked to have little interest in politics. The United Russia posters everywhere in St. Petersburg are just background, just propaganda, and not really different from the posters put out by the city that say things like “a clean city starts from your window”, “choose education” and “every child needs a family”. United Russia’s slogans like “You are in Putin’s plan” are even more banal, if not ominous. I’m not sure what United Russia hopes to achieve with all this advertising. Maybe a high enough election turnout so that they don’t have to fudge the numbers too much to claim their legitimacy? In any case, I think the populace has election fatigue. It will be interesting to see what kind of turnout numbers the government claims and what kind of numbers independent groups estimate.
Anyway, tomorrow most of my friends will go out and vote for SPS and Yabloko without much hope, but a feeling of responsibility to participate in the shred of democratic process that is left. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but I don’t think it will bring any light at the end of the tunnel for politics in Russia.