I tight rolled my jeans and went to a reggae concert Sunday. What does this mean? Well, the second is a cry for help. Please help me find any kind of live music. Especially if it is in a language I understand. I will say though that reggae grows on me more and more every time I travel. It’s amazing how often you run across Bob Marley in hostels. Tiny little places in Lao were blasting Bob Marley. One place I stayed advertised Rasta Pasta. When you travel, you find yourself craving any kind of recognizable music. If you travel long enough without hearing music in your own language, and then stumble upon a Kelly Clarkston CD, you will find yourself a huge Kelly Clarkson fan. So I have become a minor fan of reggae. Michael Franti helps. If you don’t have Rebel Rockers, go buy it now. I listen to it every day.
Why did I tight roll my jeans? Honestly, it was just so they wouldn’t get dirty and wet on my way to the concert. I looked just like an Asheville gutter punk. But the funny thing is, people kept looking at me with…admiration? I could see them thinking, “wait, is there a fashion from the 80’s we aren’t already still clinging to?” I’ve bought quite a few items of clothing here I would laugh at people for wearing back home. But I have little choice. It’s what is available. I bought a green faux leather bomber jacket, that I love. I bought fingerless gloves. I find myself nearly buying coats that would make anyone look like the Michelin man.
Anyways, after much trial and tribulation I went to see the Wailers Sunday. It wasn’t the raw reggae fest I was looking for. It was a few rastas and some average Russians. They hardly moved to the music. At first I thought it was because they couldn’t understand what the guy was saying, but I realized eventually that they did, they just weren’t moved. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. There is a history of theatre and ballet here. Maybe it’s just normal to watch a performance and not actively participate. You wouldn’t jump up in the middle of an orchestral performance and start ball room dancing. It was a bit of a downer, but maybe just something to get used to?
Let’s talk about transport for a moment. One of my favorite subjects. In St. Pete, there are a plethora of types of transport. My favorite and the easiest, the metro. Unfortunately, there is not a metro stop near every place I want to go. For instance, it isn’t really useful to go to school. To go to the main shopping mall, you take the metro to the last stop and then hop the free Ikea bus. In addition to the metro, one can take a bus, a trolley bus, a tram, a taxi, a marshrutka, or a private car (this does not in fact mean your own car.) So a trolley bus is a bus with wires above. A tram is on rails. Fairly uncomplicated. Taxi, I’m sure you’re aware. Marshrutka? This is a privately run affair, not affiliated with the state run transportation. They are usually minivans, or something in between a minivan and a bus. Due to their size, they can get through traffic quicker, and due to their quickness, they cost more than state funded public transport. Unlike a bus, they don’t have designated stops. Which brings me to my real point. We actually had a session in school devoted to “How to communicate with Marshrutka drivers.” Which I still don’t have the hang of. Usually I just hope someone asks to get off near where I’m going. While very convenient as a mode of transport, I don’t enjoy yelling from the back of the bus when I want to stop, and it isn’t always convenient to determine where these “buses” are going. There is a list of some highlights of their route on the side of the van, but that doesn’t always mean they go where you’re going. You may still end up walking 20 minutes if you grab the wrong one. And payment on these buses is kind of on the honor system. You pass your money up to the front and if you have change, it is passed back to you. Now of course, I’ve thought, “How bout I just don’t pay, will the driver even notice?” I think these people have been bred to rat others out though, so I haven’t tried it. I’m sure some babushka will cry “Citizens arrest” or the Russian equivalent. Private cars are an interesting institution. Hitchhiking is an actual mode of common transportation in this city. If you want to go somewhere without the bus, I guess for moderately long distances, or; you know I really don’t know why you do this. Maybe you’re just tired of waiting in the cold for the bus. But anyway, you just stand on the side of the street and put your hand out and eventually a car will stop. You negotiate a price and hop in. There are a lot of retirees that just drive around town acting like taxis. We also had a session in class about how to communicate with the private car drivers, but I’m not inclined to use this mode of transportation.
I got a bit tipsy the other night. As happens when you choose to debauch until 6am. As I stumbled home from the hostel I had crashed at for a few hours, I got that well known feeling; I needed grease. Thankfully the metro dumps out at a Макдоналдз. As I stood in line to order my Биг Теисти (which as I look at this, I realize that anyone with some knowledge of Russian and English could easily be tricked into seeing “big teste”), a Russian woman came up behind me to ask about the menu. Let me point out that at the Mcdonalds, most things have the same name, just transliterated into Cyrillic. For example: Chicken McNuggets = Чикен Макнеггетс or something like that. Well it stands to reason that “chicken” in Russian is not just “chicken” with different letters. So a woman comes up to me and asks me in Russian, “What is Chicken McNuggets?, is it meat?” First of all, that cracks me up. But it only cracks me up now. In my half drunken stupor, I didn’t think it an odd question, somehow, in my half drunken stupor, I realized that this was my chance to use being an American as a positive thing. I could share my knowledge of the great American food, “Chicken McNuggets”….I screwed it up. Michael, you may see where this is going. There is a very small difference between the word for Chicken and the word for Cinnamon, and I do believe I told her that a Чикен Макнеггет was made of cinnamon. A box of fried cinnamon balls. Poor lady. Probably thought she was getting a nice desert. My future as a goodwill ambassador is finished I’m afraid.
Those of you who kept up with me in Belgium will remember my persistent annoyance with the general lack of interest in good coffee. There is no lack of interest in coffee, they drink it all the time, but astronaut coffee is made for astronauts. There are even fewer coffee beans in this country. Nescafe, etc. The Russian favorite- Tchibo. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe in some of the cafes, I’m getting some sort of actual ground bean that is then put through some kind of grinding, boiling, extracting process. But often, this is not the case. Yesterday, I paid 3 dollars for some sort of highly acidic brown muck. And then it dawned on me. Soylent brown is people! You’ll remember that a few weeks ago I saw a dead man at the bus stop. A friend of mine imparted a story on me of his similar experience. Unfortunately for him, he watched the man die, then watched an old babushka actually step on the man to get in the bus. Then while he waited for his bus, he watched a truck pull up, open the back hatch and throw the body in. A garbage truck for bodies. Now his account is from the early 90’s, so perhaps the value of a life has improved. Or perhaps not. All I’m saying is, in a country where the value of life is sometimes marginal; in a country where capitalism struggles under corruption; in a country where there is little regard for the quality of a cup of java: perhaps Soylent Brown is people.