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Went to Stockholm for the day last Monday to drop off my Russian visa application. Kostia and I are going for Christmas and New Year. It only took about 30 minutes at the embassy in what had to be the most friendly and efficient office of the Russian Federation I have ever been in (must be the Swedish influence) and I had a day to enjoy Stockholm. Decided to get a haircut as they seem to be on average 200 crowns (25 bucks) cheaper than in Falun. Thus far I’ve managed not to get a haircut in a salon in Sweden (perhaps because it’s so expensive?), so I was stressing out a bit about my Swedish salon vocabulary or lack thereof. I needn’t have worried. I walked into a random salon, where the stylist said it would take 20 minutes to finish with her current customer, sat down, and heard that the stylist, the customer, and the other woman hanging around were speaking Russian. Saved! By now my Russian salon vocabulary is totally functional.

Despite it being the darkest, grimmest time of year and it being an especially gray and drizzly day, Stockholm looked fantastic, especially after dark with all the holiday decorations. I amused myself by visiting secondhand shops and had the opportunity to meet with the owners of a language school I’m doing some teaching through these days, who were lovely people. The day culminated with a visit to the Christmas market in Old Town. I didn’t bring my camera, thinking, what else can I possibly photograph in Stockholm after having been there countless times?

I have to go back to Stockholm on Tuesday to pick up my visa, and am really looking forward to it. This time I will bring my camera.

Yesterday was my last day at the upper secondary school where I was working this term. They say they don’t need an assistant English teacher next year, which is just as well, I suppose. It was a mixed bag of an experience. I don’t think their lack of a need for an assistant English teacher has to do with my job performance. Quite honestly, I really think I went above and beyond. I put in a lot of extra hours for which I knew I wouldn’t be compensated. It just wasn’t a situation where going above and beyond was ever going to merit more than a “thanks” from the teachers I was assisting. I had very little contact with the school’s director, who makes the decisions about these things.

I would write more about the whole experience, but I think I need to have a policy of not blogging about work, even after the fact, so prospective employers doing Google searches don’t think I’m a bad risk. So, hello, prospective employers! I’m not going to say bad things about you, ever!

Which brings me to the point. I need a part-time job this fall, so I’ve been peddling (and pedaling, literally) my CV to all the other upper secondary schools in town. In Sweden the recommended means of job hunting is cold-calling, believe it or not. More than one person has told me that prospective employers want to see your face to make sure you’re white to see what kind of a person you are before any formal hiring process begins.

Cold-calling isn’t something I relish doing under any circumstances, even less so in a language in which I’m not fluent. Fortunately, Swedes are very decent and polite people, so my stomachache went away after the first few visits. One school director was even kind enough to compliment me on my Swedish, though she also said that they didn’t have any open positions for next year.

Sigh. I do miss the St. Petersburg English teaching job market, as well as the highly motivated and/or adorable and fun students I had there.

It’s cheating, since I’m in Falun and not St. Petersburg right now, but I needed a non-wintry header and I’ve always wanted to use this picture, which was taken exactly two years ago. I love trams, even rickety St. Petersburg ones. And maybe this is a good time for some St. Petersburg nostalgia, since this is the time of year when St. Petersburg starts to feel very lovely and romantic after the long, cold, dark, dirty winter.

I’ll attach the full picture below, so that when this post is just an archive and I’ve changed the header yet again, future readers will know what I’m talking about.

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.

Here’s what the current metro looks like, superimposed on a map of the city:
metrooncity.jpg

click to enlarge

Here’s the schematic map, familiar to all metro riders:

metro-current-scheme.gif

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:

scan.jpg

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.

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.

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.

new-year-pumpkin.jpg

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.

 

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!

According to LawPundit, I am a “Swede in Russia writing in English”. Alas, no. I am also, according to them, a LawPundit reader. This list must just be a list of everyone who has ever clicked on their site. That’s pretty sad, but whatever. Hopefully I’ll soon be back to being an American in Sweden writing about Russia. We’ll find out about our new residence permits at the end of this week, and if all goes as expected, we’ll return to Falun in mid-January.

And just in time too. Maybe it’s just the gray darkness of mid-December, but St. Petersburg is really getting to me lately. Mostly all the little systemic problems that could easily be fixed if someone took five minutes to give a shit, like the disorganization at the post office or all the boxes blocking the aisles at the Pyatyorochka supermarket or the dirtiness of the marshrutka interior. Even though I usually respond to these things by saying “Grr, Russia”, I have to admit that my home country has its share of this particular brand of “idiotism” too. Take this New York Times article (thanks to Veronica for the link) about the broken elevators at the Bronx family court and how people have to wait for hours to get into the building, missing their court appointments. Really, people. I cannot believe this. It is my fervent hope that this article will provoke such public outrage that someone in charge will actually have to do something about it (besides just making statements that the elevators are slowly being repaired), like moving the court to temporary quarters until the elevators are fixed, and/or letting people use the stairs.

There are a lot of things wrong with this world and plenty to be sad or upset about, but the things that really enrage me are the fixable problems, no matter how small, that are just ignored or dealt with incompetently. 

I need to go watch this video a few more times to be soothed by cute cute hedgehogs doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel. (Thanks to CrimeanElf for the link.)

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:

dscn3140.jpg

Here it is a few minutes ago, at 2.00 p.m.

dscn3144.jpg

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!

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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