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We’re back in Falun, staying with our lovely friends Lenka and Dima (originally from the Czech Republic and Russia, respectively), who are so unbelievably hospitable. We move into our apartment tomorrow. We had hoped to move in a day or two early, but apparently it’s being renovated, so we won’t complain about having to impose on our friends a few more days.
Things are working out really well so far. Our apartment is in the same complex as Lenka and Dima’s, so we won’t have 25-minute drunken walks home like we did last year, only 5-minute ones. Some other friends of ours, Luke and Claudia, are moving to the Czech Republic this week, and though it’s sad that they won’t be around, we did score a ton of kitchen stuff, furniture, and other fabulous household items.
Kostia started working immediately, and one of his colleagues who also taught the Swedish Education System course I took last year even has some employment possibilities for me.
And then there’s the weather. It’s been a weird winter in St. Petersburg so far – there has been snow, but it keeps melting and most of the time it seems it’s been gray and miserable out. We thought we were in for more of the same when we landed in Stockholm and the captain said it was 7 degrees (Celsius, about 47 Fahrenheit), but we woke up to a winter wonderland in Falun yesterday. It snowed all day and wasn’t too cold or windy. Today is frosty and sunny, and the snow is still stuck to the tree branches and it is absolutely beautiful.
So, I haven’t been working very much for, basically, the last month. First my students had fewer lessons because of the pre-holiday hustle and bustle, then it was the holidays, then it was the nearly-two-week Russian national hangover, and by then I had pretty much officially quit work because we had planned to leave for Sweden on January 16.
Have I been using my spare time wisely? No, not really, although I realize that I really do feel much better when I sleep as much as I want to, which is like 10 hours a day.
But sometimes I am seized with the desire to do projects. Last night’s project was to create a schematic map of the most recent proposed extensions to the St. Petersburg metro.
click to enlarge
Here’s the schematic map, familiar to all metro riders:
Here’s the map of the most recently proposed additions, to scale, superimposed on a map of the city – a truly massive plan, with forty new stations. I can’t get WordPress to make a thumbnail of this one for some reason, so you’ll just have to click on the link.
And here is the schematic map I stayed up til 3 a.m. last night drawing:
I had an awful lot of fun making it. Perhaps I’ve chosen the wrong career path. Or, seeing as I haven’t really chosen a career path, maybe I should have chosen one that involved drawing maps.
Read about Harry Beck, the first person to draw such a map, who drew the London Underground.
We’re off to Sweden next Tuesday!
I’ve never been to a tailor in the US. I’d thought about it I suppose, but I guess I just assumed it would be too expensive, and anyway, my Grandma Jean always hemmed my trousers for me on her sewing machine if I really needed it. But here in Russia I don’t have a grandmother with a sewing machine (although one could probably be adopted), so a couple years ago when I bought some corduroys that were too long, I swallowed my fear of awkwardness and went to the tailor in the nearby shopping center.
It was a very positive experience. The tailor, a tall, skinny middle-aged man from the Caucasus, was friendly and professional, did the job well and with a one-day turnaround, and I think it only cost 200 rubles (about $7 at the time). I later had him shorten another pair as well as some sleeves on a suit jacket.
Recently I decided to try something a little more complicated. I had some skirts and dresses that never quite fit just right, too big in the waist, and I decided to get them altered, though I was a little worried that this procedure had a greater chance of failure than leg or sleeve shortening. I live in a different neighborhood now, but after a quick glance at the grumpy woman in the nearest tailor shop, I decided to go back to my friendly tailor in the old neighborhood.
Only he wasn’t there. Instead I met Tamara, who works there part-time, who did an amazing job on my three dresses and skirts for only 800 rubles total. If you want her number I can give it to you. There’s no excuse for wearing ill-fitting clothes in Russia, when tailoring is so good and affordable.
It’s not clear what happened: the Swedish Migration Service says that Kostia’s residence/work permit application arrived without the necessary employment invitation and so the application hasn’t been processed because it is incomplete; the Swedish Consulate in St. Petersburg, where we submitted our (completed!) applications, claims that they sent everything and that everything is fine. The university is finally getting involved and hopefully all this will be resolved soon, but it is mighty irritating that the applications were submitted seven weeks ago and we only just found out that they weren’t being processed.
I’m really starting to despise government bureaucracies. And I hate it that the age of globalization means that people can ship stupid environmentally devastating plastic crap all over the world, but that it seems to be getting more difficult and unpleasant for actual human beings to cross borders.
I wanted to post this right before New Year, but my scanner wasn’t cooperating, thanks to Internet Explorer 7, which managed to screw up all kinds of things on my computer. I am happy to announce that I have completely uninstalled Explorer altogether and am using Firefox. I know, I know, I should have done that a long time ago, but I am lazy and ill-informed when it comes to computers.
Anyway, before New Year I saw this in my local Pyatyorochka supermarket, the worst New Year card I’ve ever seen. Of course I had to buy it. Nothing can ever top this Men’s Day card, but still:
The front reads: “Fulfillment of New Year’s wishes”, and the inside:
May your hanging out with your friends be happy,
The best surprise is waiting under the tree,
Dreams are fulfilled, life becomes cool,
Let your whole year happen with a hurrah!
All right, so this is clearly aimed at teenagers. Teenage girls, for whom New Year’s wishes include a creepy boy with the face of a twelve-year-old, the body of a lifeguard, and an oversized belt buckle. And a really large stereo speaker.
I don’t think adults should design cards for teenagers, because they are hopelessly uncool. But perhaps I don’t have a complete linguistic and cultural feel for what is cool to a Russian teenager. If you know any Russian teenagers, ask them if they think this card is cool.
Oh, and in case you don’t understand the title of the post, Monday was New Year according to the Julian calendar, which the Russian Orthodox Church uses. The holiday isn’t a big one, just another excuse to drink, as if an excuse was needed.
Nothing to report. Kostia has been calling the Swedish Consulate every day to see if the Migration Service has approved our residence permits yet. We submitted our applications nearly seven weeks ago now, and they told us it would take 4 to process them. It’s annoying, because I had to give notice at the language school since we had been planning to leave this week, so now I’m not really working, except for a few private lessons here and there. So I’m just sitting here in limbo. I suppose I’d like to take a long vacation someplace cheap and sunny if the residence permits are denied for some reason. Any recommendations?
Well, not quite the first full week of 2008, but almost.
We rang in the new year in Kostia’s hometown, Slantsy. Our friends Vadik, Elya, Eugene and Polina joined us. I’ve re-added the Flickr application so you can look at the photo album if you like. Check out the sidebar.
I mentioned that I wasn’t able to find a pumpkin to make a jack-o-lantern the weekend before Halloween, the last time I was in Slantsy. Kostia’s parents, not fully understanding that this is a seasonal thing, somehow found me a pumpkin before New Year. It was blue and very nicely shaped. So I carved some stars in it and we had a very lovely new year lantern.
We came back from Slantsy on the 2nd. On the 3rd I came down with a nasty cold, the second in 4 weeks. Ugh, I’ll be really happy to get back to Sweden, where I didn’t get sick for 10 whole months.
Yesterday I took the train to Helsinki and back. Twelve hours on the train, two hours in the city. Why, you ask? Foreigners in Russia have to register their residence, and my registration had lapsed. After some fussing and failing to get certain bureaucrats to do their job and extend the registration, Kostia and I decided that the easiest thing would be for me just to leave the country and come back and re-register. I gave some thought to doing something different, like visiting Tallinn or Kiev, but I wasn’t really in the mood for mid-winter tourism and visiting unfamiliar cities alone. I mean, sometimes I am in such a mood, but not right now.
I decided the Helsinki train was the easiest and most comfortable way of getting out of Russia and back in, albeit not the cheapest. It was made less cheap by the fact that there were no second class seats available on the return train that I wanted to take and so I wound up getting a bed in a sleeping compartment. The price difference wasn’t that great, anyway – only 250 rubles, or $10. At first I thought this was such a waste and wondered why they even had sleeping cars on a day train. Well, let me tell you. After the six-hour ride sitting in a normal train seat in the morning, it was incredibly nice and luxurious to have a bed to stretch out in. I relaxed, read the paper, had the car’s service person bring me a cup of tea (in a glass with silver holder in the Russian style), napped and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Next time I go to Helsinki from St. Petersburg I will totally spend the extra ten bucks on the sleeping car.
During my two hours in Helsinki I visited the big department store, Stockmann, which was jam-packed with people, many of them Russian (Kostia reminded me of the joke that Helsinki is St. Petersburg’s biggest shopping mall, though now there may well be some malls in St. Petersburg which have more shops than downtown Helsinki), going crazy over the post-Christmas sales. I only bought some salty licorice flavored candy on request of one of Kostia’s friends, although I still can’t believe that anyone not raised in Scandinavia can actually stand that stuff.
I also went to the post office to mail a few packages. After my last experience in a Russian post office (when I tried to send my Christmas packages to the U.S., failed miserably after 2.5 hours of waiting in line, broke down sobbing and wound up being rescued by Kostia, who made the one-hour trip from our apartment to central St. Petersburg just to get me out of there and very kindly sent the packages himself from a branch office the next day), I thought going to the post office in Helsinki would be a wise use of my time there.
I wasn’t wrong. The main Helsinki post office, in contrast to the St. Petersburg one, is conveniently located, clean and well-lit; does not reek of cat pee; does not have different windows for each different function staffed by people capable of doing only one function, windows which are, furthermore, not even accurately labelled so you have to wait in line for hours only to find that you waited in the wrong one; has helpful, friendly, efficient, multilingual staff who do not just go on a 1-2 hour lunch break with no replacement, leaving everyone waiting in line until they come back; has a take-a-number system that works; did not require me to weigh and itemize every single item in every package and fill out a customs form in quadruplicate; and allowed me to actually pack my own packages. Furthermore, they had Moomin packing boxes for sale (which I purchased), as well as very stylish Marimekko ones (which I didn’t purchase, but thoroughly admired). Ah, western civilization.
I had been slightly concerned that I would have trouble re-entering Russia because they recently changed the business visa rules, and although visas issued before the change are supposed to go by the old rules, you never know when a Russian bureaucrat will just decide to be a sadist. I had brought with me my backpack and a small suitcase filled with all the things I can’t live without for more than a few days, in case they wouldn’t let me back in the country and I wound up having to go to Sweden early to wait for Kostia (although the Swedish Migration Service still hasn’t got round to processing our residence permit applications). But, there were no problems at the border, and after another trip to the post office of my nightmares this afternoon, I am now legally registered in Russia again.
And that is 2008 thus far.