So I’ve been heartily welcomed back into Russia, and although I’ve only been here for two weeks and two days, it already feels as if I never left. Something things have changed, of course. The bus now costs 18 rubles instead of 16, and the exchange rate is now hovering about 36 rubles to the dollar, versus the 25 rubles to the dollar of last semester. Apparently the Russian government spent 3 billion dollars slowing inflation over the past six months. Good luck with that, guys.
Other things never change. The store clerks are as uneager to sell me things as ever, and I’m still being either groped or pick-pocketed as I am carried (quite literally) by the crowd streaming into the one open door into the metro at rush hour. It kind of makes me feel warm inside knowing there are things that I can depend on, count on, and trust.
My host family was so excited that they made me a special salad in honor of my arrival. I returned to floor 18 of Dom 8 to find a small plate of ambiguous fish bits and olives waiting for me. I can handle fish bits, really, but you know how I feel about olives—the only thing worse than olives themselves are there juices, which have an unpleasant tendency of remaining and insisting on by drank after they themselves have been consumed.
Have had many adventures since my return! The best being my first time hailing a gypsy cab aka hitchhiking (albeit with two other people) at 2:30 AM! Hailing gypsy cabs is a totally normal and commonly accepted form of transport in St. Petersburg, and goes on 24/7, although their business really picks up at night after the buses and metro stop running around midnight. The deal with gypsy cabs is:
1. Agree on a price for your ride BEFORE getting in the car (it’s just some guy’s car—there are no meters). Only get in a car if there is one person inside
2. Make sure you get a cheap ride—if the first driver that stops asks for too much, let him go, because 25 MORE CARS have stopped for you in the meantime! The choice is yours!
3. Make sure car does not reek of alcohol, and do not offer to PAY your driver with alcohol.
4. It is preferably that your driver have a really sick nasty hat and that he is grooving to some sweet jams—this will insure that you have the coolest gypsy cab experience ever, like I did.
5. Get in the car, and away you go!
In other news, today I was taken on a speedy, three hour tour of the Petrograd side of the city, a side which, being a west-side Vasilevsky Island girl myself, I carelessly neglected last semester. The Petrograd side is referred to, by my well-traveled program comrade and current east-side Petrograd resident Eli (or as his host mother refers to him “My Little Grandson Ilyusha the Koala Bear”) as the best side of Russia. I am inclined to agree. Despite the upsetting lack of pedestrian walk lights, which requires that you just look anxiously at other pedestrians and follow them out into the street when they walk, hoping that they have some idea of what they are doing, I found the home of the Zenit Stadium to be a rather KICKING side of St. Petersburg. Just consider that for a moment.
While on our adventure the two of us made the rather careless mistake of stepping too close to the road while waiting for the walk signal to change. By too close I mean that we were standing about four feet away from traffic rather than seven feet away. Ilyusha KB and I suffered immeasurably when a large truck sped by and covered us, quite literally, from HEAD TO TOE IN SLUDGE and SMUDGE (as they call it in Chicago). Was shocked. Am usually quite careful about these things. As a result, we did not only look like two Americans wandering about Russia, but two HOMELESS Americans wandering about Russia. It’s hopeless, really.
Am also very discouraged by my inability to overcome constant slipping. Although I have not yet, as they say, “fallen on my ass,” each day I fear for my life walking the black-iced sidewalks of this city. Perhaps I would not be so embarrassed about my walking inability if each slip was not accompanied by involuntary shrieks and curse words that always explode from my mouth rather loudly, and cause an overall disturbance of the peace, resulting in rather disapproving looks from all those with fifty feet of me, and encouraging the babushkas to grab the hands of their grandchildren and cross to the opposite side of the street. Learning to take the danger of slipping in stride is a skill I have yet to master, but hope to in the coming months.
SUN! We have sun! My day is bright and cheery! Today on our walk Ilyusha KB and I stopped to contemplate a touching moment: turning the corner we found the sun glowing miraculously, so much so that we had to squint to see at all. In front of us a lone babushka, all gold around the edges, slowly walked towards the brilliance, packet in one hand, cane in the other. It was symbolic really, of what, I’m not sure, but definitely symbolic—imagine My Antonia but with a babushka instead of a plough. There you go.
So yes, in conclusion, still alive and well, and missing you all almost as much as I miss marked down and expired organic fruit and nut bars from overstock stores, but looking forward to a great several months of buckwheat kasha for breakfast!