Wow, I guess I had a big break from blogging there. Part of the reason is that I was busy with end-of-term stuff, part of it was that I kept getting sick, part of it was that I was in Russia without regular internet access for two weeks, and part of it was that I just wasn’t in the mood. But here we are.
We took the ferry and the train to and from St. Petersburg. It took a long time, but it was nice, especially on the way back when all the cheap cabins on the ferry were sold out and we sprang for a nice one. It was an interesting study in demographics. On the way there, December 23rd, there were very few Scandinavian-looking people on the boat. All the Swedes and Finns were home with their families. It was the immigrant boat. Girls in head scarves speaking Finnish. On the way back, January 5, it was the Russian tourist boat.
Russia was interesting as usual. I realized that if we’re going to stay in Sweden and I’m only going to go to Russia once a year, it ought to be in late spring or summer, NOT December/January. Yes, I did once vow to spend all New Years in Russia, but really, it’s more about having people around than where you are. So the plan is to have everyone come here next New Year.
The effects of the financial crisis were more apparent in St. Petersburg than here in the bubble of small-town Sweden. Our friends had stories of their workplaces downsizing, several had been given an extra “vacation” (without pay) or received a pay cut. There seemed to be fewer cars on the road, which is only good for traffic and the environment, but a sign of tough times nonetheless. In general, things felt more subdued than when we left eleven months ago. As a visitor, it was kind of nice. But we realized that if we had stayed in St. Petersburg instead of coming to Sweden, we’d be unemployed now too – companies are trying to save money by cutting back on “extras” like English lessons for their employees.
The week after New Year is one long national holiday in Russia. The thing to do is stay up late, sleep til afternoon, eat leftovers, go out somewhere shopping or to the movies or to a cafe, get drunk, and do it all over again. We saw two Russian movies in the theater and two on DVD while we were there. Here are my reviews.
Obitaemiy Ostrov (Inhabited Island) – Sci-fi dystopia based on a classic novel. It was supposed to be the New Year’s Blockbuster. It didn’t impress me much. I thought the special effects were crappy and hackneyed, but it did make me want to read the book, so that’s something.
Stilyagi – This film RULED! I hope they release it internationally. It’s a musical, and I hate musicals, but I liked this film. It’s about youths in 1950s Moscow who embraced jazz and dancing and brightly-colored clothes, enduring harassment from their peers in the Komsomol. So it’s kind of political, but the main reason I liked it is that it was just really well done visually.
The following are the films I saw on DVD. They’re a couple years old, but you probably haven’t seen them, so I’ll review them. :-)
Bumazhniy Soldat (Paper Soldier) – artsy fartsy film about how members of the intelligentsia participated in the development of the Soviet space program by standing around in puddles smoking cigarettes.
Vdokh Vydokh (Inhale Exhale) – artsy fartsy film in which a guy hires his ex-wife as a prostitute. They had gotten divorced because the ex-wife had had a lesbian love affair which consisted of a lot of skipping around in the forest, pillow fights and giggling. A pile of utter nonsense, but visually appealing.
So that was my trip to Russia. I got valenki (felt boots) from Kostia’s mom for New Year, will try to get around to taking a picture of myself in them. In the meantime, here are some other photos:
Kostia’s hometown. They stopped building the building on the left when the Soviet Union collapsed. On the right you can see part of the sign for “Trendy Cafe”.
Obligatory picture of the Church on Spilled Blood
“Now it’s a holiday, the rest of the year – gray everyday life?”
View of Nevsky Prospect and Griboyedov Canal from Dom Knigi