Saturday, March 28, 2009
What the hell are these? Giant mushrooms?
I gotta go level out the blood in my system. Not enough alcohol.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
There are trenches through the streets of St. Petersburg. I mean, the logical explanation is that they are preparing to widen the roads in what is a terribly overcrowded city. The other explanation is that they are preparing to wage war from the center of the city. Actually, maybe that’s the logical explanation. Either way, the city is taking little care to keep its residents from meeting at best, a broken leg, at worse death, in these trenches that stretch the length of many of the main streets. The trenches are covered with 2 x 4s. Don’t bother with barricades, just cover these 5 foot deep trenches with some planks of wood. In some places the planks have slid one direction or the other, leaving gaping holes in the earth right where you want to step to start crossing the street. In many places, there are just broken planks. I saw one place where obviously someone had found a bad section of wood and just stepped right through. I don’t imagine they walked away from this. I for one will avoid walking over these death traps as much as possible.
I signed up for an ICQ account today. Yes, living here is like living in a time machine. A broken time machine that needs a new transmission. Because while you can get any movie that is currently in theatres, on DVD at the local convenience store, people are still using ICQ to communicate. Walking on the streets sometimes feels like walking on the set of a Tiffany video, but…I was going to insert an opposing situation that shows the futuristic side of Russia, but maybe the pirated movies is the only step forward.
My bank card is being declined. At the local corner shop and at two ATMs. The ATM say they are decling at the request of my bank. Of course, my bank knows nothing about this.
I see a lot of men with baby strollers. Let me back up. I see very few baby strollers here. I’ve been told Russians aren’t having children. Of course, the immigrant population is making up for this. While there used to be a lot of blonde Russians, there seems to be very few now. Everyone has dark hair, and well of course there are plenty of bottled blondes. You are given some sort of prize from the government if you can manage to tolerate popping out two kids. I’m told a car or an apartment, but I’m getting this information from the insane woman I live with. INSANE. But I don’t want to get into that now. So anyway, there are very few baby strollers. Very few pregnant women. In fact, I’ve only seen pregnant women in the clinic when I got my HIV test. I haven’t seen one on the street. Maybe it’s embarrassing to walk around with the extra pounds? Maybe after 3 months they go ahead and check into the hospital for the duration? But I think really, there are just very few women, in the city at least, having children. Of the baby strollers I’ve seen, I’d have to say that 50% have been guided by men. Not even with their significant other. First, I think, “wow, how progressive.” But then the cynic steps up. Why would there be so many men with baby carriages? Well, my first thought is that after their military tours, they can’t find jobs. But I think the reality is more about laziness. Additionally, perhaps the women are hell-bent on working. In most cafes and stores, I’d say it’s 80% female staff. Continuing in the math vein, I’d say the reason for men pushing strollers is 75% Russian male sloth and 25% Russian female fortitude.
Ok, back to the crazy lady. Why? Because I just walked into the kitchen to put my dishes in the dishwasher (because she told me I need to start cleaning up after myself. Really? I thought I paid you for that. I mean, I pay you to cook, and half the time you don’t, so I figure, if I have to cook for myself, you can wash the bowl. But hey, that’s too much to ask) and she’s topless. Not just, “I just ran from my room to the kitchen to grab a glass of water and didn’t feel like putting a shirt on”. No. She’s sitting at the kitchen table listening to shitty Russian pop music. I’m sure if I’d looked longer than the 1/8th of a millisecond that I did, I would have seen her boobs bouncing to “Poker Face” (worst song ever). I walk in and she kind of half ducks under the table with this sick smile on her face. I mean, how can you look surprised when I’ve walked in on you naked in the ONLY public room in the house at least a dozen times. The other day, I was about to eat the delightful can of cold vegetables she slopped on a plate, but needed a fork. As I’m getting a fork, she walks up to get something next to me and her towel falls off. Great. Full frontal with dinner. Pleasant.
The next day she lectures me on how I should study more. About how I should be learning 30 new words a day, because I only go to school right? I have nothing else to do. If only. You only work 3 hours a day. So quit telling me that you’re tired and asking me to do your grocery shopping. The day after, I come home to drop my school stuff off and I tell her I’m going to read the news. When I come back she gets this “Knowing” smile on her face and says, “Kristina says you just went to the internet.” Well, while Kristina had time to follow me to my destination, maybe she should have done the grocery shopping. This woman clearly has no idea you can find things like “news” on the internet. No clearly, it’s only for meeting men on ICQ…
Thursday, March 19, 2009
The first pages are "interesting facts about the 50 states"
Most are normal, "Arkansas, The only diamond mine in North America is in Arkansas" "Florida, more lakes than any other states"
Then the moderately interesting, "Delaware, Nylon was invented here"
Then the useless, uninteresting, and sometimes demeaning,
"Connecticut, Much of the land is not very good for farming". Really? You couldn't find one positive thing to say? Or perhaps something slightly interesting?
"Minnesota, Millions of people spend their vacation here each year" No. I can't believe this. Who is visiting Minnesota? Maybe Russians. Maybe they come to America but only can tolerate climates similar to their own?
Illinois--leader in farm machinery, electrical products, iron and steel, bricks, candy, and many other products. Well, I feel better knowing that, especially "many other products"
Iowa--here you can find the biggest popcorn-packing plant. Hmm, well, kind of interesting. And well, it is Iowa, so there is probably nothing more interesting.
Missouri--The state is a leader in automobiles, aerospace equipment, butter, cheese, beer, shoes, and meatpacking. Yes, meatpacking. Something to be proud of.
Montana--Almost every town in Montana has a rodeo.
Pennsylvania--first in pig iron, steel, and canned mushrooms. What the hell is pig iron? And canned mushrooms? Who has these statistics? You know, someone is excited about this statistic though.
Vermont--Produces almost all the US Asbestos
Wisconsin--leader in ice cream and dry milk. Mmmm. Dry milk.
I'm going to leave it at this. I'm sure I'll find more later to share.
Vermont--enjoy your asbestos.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I went to a bar the other night. It’s called Fidel and of course there is a mural of Castro on the main wall behind the DJ. Interesting little joint. Popular with locals and tourists, well backpackers, alike. I will say though, sometimes the breed of locals aren’t the classiest individuals. I think the knowledge that many patrons are from parts afar, gives the locals a courage they may not otherwise have. I.e., getting your ass grabbed and other forms of general harassment are fairly common. Well, anyway, this night I met men from parts afar. Kurdistan to be exact. I was initially confused how people from Kurdistan could be in St. Pete living it up at a club. I’ve been recently informed, by an all too knowledgeable Finn, that the Kurd part of Northern Iraq is quite rich right now, as apparently it is the nicest part of Iraq and many soldiers go there on their leave. Well, irrelevant to my experience. I drank quite a bit. To the point that I was dancing everywhere. The kind of behavior you regret the next morning, because you can’t remember if you were Jennifer Lopez or Bill Cosby. I walked up to this talk dark haired gentlemen and motioned for him to come dance with me. This guy was very attractive, great smile, tall, wild hair. His friend? He looked as though he was thinking about the shipment of arms he just received. This guy had short hair, a scruffy beard, and a very ethnic scarf he never took off. He sat with this menacing look on his face, twirling his prayer beads. Strange couple. My guess would be brothers. Anyway, I take to dancing with the tall one, I think his name was Ibrahim. As I remember, he wasn’t a bad dancer. However, he really enjoyed making that noise that Arabs and Indians make sometimes. You know that noise? Like a turkey after a castration? He was making this noise every 30 seconds. This made him quite an impressive figure. 6’6” at least, dark skin, unruly hair, and a trill every half minute. Eventually I had to walk away. But let me tell you, this did not stop him. I wish I had video. He continued to dance, sometimes obviously dances native to his culture, and trilling. What a night.
In an ethnic turn of events, last night I went to a club with 3 Chinese guys. It's apparently not terribly safe for them here, so they rarely go out alone. We went to this club that charged an entrance fee. I do not pay to go to clubs. I pay to see music. I do not pay to hear someone to play shitty music at ridiculous volumes with monotonous beats. Maybe if I start doing drugs I'll change my mind. Well, last night, I had to break this, as two of the boys were already in the door. 15 bucks. Really? I've not gone to concerts because I didn't want to pay 15 bucks. But I paid it. All part of the experience right? Jesus. The music was so bad. The people were worse. Thankfully, I had good company, and the boys kept me laughing all night. But the people dancing? I wish I could get some pictures. I have to find a way to develop a super discreet flash. Or maybe I'll just start carrying around my big camera and say I'm with an American newspaper. That would work, except a terrible idea in a bar. That camera will be gone or ruined in a matter of days. But maybe one night. Sometimes I think I live in city that idolizes Cat Woman. At any given time, anywhere, at least 50 percent of the women I see look like Cat Woman. I mean, it's attractive on one level I suppose, but the whole thing is laughable. I hate that this place has more women than men, but I don't envy the men. They have way too many women to look at. The streets, and certainly the clubs are filled with women that seem to only wear shirts and boots. Um, hello? It's cold outside? Maybe you want to put some pants on? Or maybe a skirt that goes below your ass? But the thing is, while they look easy, I'm sure they aren't. You have to have cash to ride this ride. Then there's the issue that even if you have the cash to pursue such a roller-coaster, you will most likely walk away with some parting gifts. Perhaps a case of the clap and a free trip to the abortion doctor. I read somewhere yesterday that women say its safer to have multiple abortions than to have a baby in a Russian hospital. And to my knowledge this is the leading form of birth control still. Whatever your opinion of abortion, you have to believe that it isn't a great idea to have 8 of them before you're 30.
Continuing on my ethnic tour last night, I was saved from a passing car of assholes, by a Turkmenistani guy at the convenience store next to my house. A BMW blaring Ludicrous, pulled up next to me as I crossed the street to my house, yelling god only knows what out the window at me. I didn't even look at them long enough to try to determine their motivation. If they spoke English, I would have had a few words for them. I tried to hide behind a van, but when they didn't leave, the guy at the store called me over there. Then they left. I mean, I know I was feeling a little down about my daily appearance in a city full of plastic barbie dolls, but this wasn't the kind of attention I was looking for!
Do you know how cheap cigarettes are here? It’s ridiculous. Parliaments cost maybe $1.75. There are plenty of cigarettes that cost about $0.50. You have to smoke in Russia. You’re wasting money if you don’t smoke here. We’re in an economic crisis, for christ’s sake.
Yesterday I saw a lobster man. He was standing at a lamppost, waving his hands at people and saying things with a terrible look on his face. I had my headphones on, so I wasn’t able to even try to understand what he was saying. I just walked quickly the other direction to avoid having his lobster hands in my face. Maybe that was wrong, but I don’t think I can change the human instinct to run from what is obviously a mistake in nature. Had he been less aggressive, perhaps my reaction would have been different. It’s kind of surreal. It happened so fast, I’m not sure it really happened. Like the dead guy at the bus stop. “So how was Russia? Did you see some cool stuff?” “Oh yes! Some amazing museums, and the architecture, fantastic! The dead guy at the bus stop was a highlight, and the Lobster boy! What a city!”
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I’m watching the Miss Russia pageant. You would think, in a country of such beautiful women, this would be a knock out group of females. You, like me, would be wrong. Some of these women are busted. Their hair is all over the place for one thing. A lot of bad teeth. A lot of too thin girls. Plenty of just boring, and even some fully unattractive women. Now in a country full of absolutely gorgeous girls, who incidentally have complete control over their hair and 6 inch heels in any weather, why would the national beauty competition be filled with anything but drop dead gorgeous women? How could this be? First I thought, maybe the gorgeous girls I see on the street are lacking…moral fiber. Maybe they don’t meet up to this competitions humanity standards. Then I laughed at myself for that one. As if I needed proof, the next 3 girls gave “Let’s get naked” looks to the audience during their introductions. Clearly this is a matter of money. Daddy paid to have his nearly cross eyed daughter on this stage. Some of these girls are clearly lying about their age. 18? Try 35. And from what I can tell, they are actually putting up the girls figures. They show seductive pictures, and then their age and measurements. Yeah, this is about quality humans, not outward beauty...
The lineup for swim suits actually got disturbed because the pop singer entertainment decided to try to grind with the contestants. Ha! His name is Lazerboy. Perfect.
PS. Shoulder pads are totally in…
I hate Rush Limbaugh. With every bone, fiber, corpuscle in my body. I hate him. I’ve never wanted someone dead. Except Rush Limbaugh. “Call abortions”? I’m not going to get into it. I can’t even listen to him for entertainment value, because I know somewhere, probably in my mother’s house, someone is believing the vile spewing from his fat mouth. But you know what? His first name is conveniently the first syllable of my current country and the first syllable of the group of people I sometimes want to punch into a bus. I was told before I left that I was going to get irritated sometimes, and want to yell things like “I hate Russia/Russians”. I was told in these cases to instead yell “I hate Ukranians” in order to avoid offence and perhaps actually gain friends since I there seems to be a dislike among Russians of their former country-men. Well I have nothing against Ukrainians, so I plan to yell “I hate Rush Limbaugh”. It’s doubly powerful. So, if you see on the news, that there is some girl in Russia running around yelling “I hate Rush Limbaugh” after punching someone into a bus, well, you probably could have guessed it was me without me having told you.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
I saw a guy with a Napoleon Dynamite tshirt on a Russian comedy sketch show. I really doubt he got the humour in that movie. But they blatantly ripped off his dance moves in the opening sequence.
So I’m in Russia grace á Rotary. I am required to do a few things for them for the grant I received. Namely spend some time with their clubs in Russia. Well, there was a sickening amount of mis-communication between myself and my Rotarian contact in Russia. In fact, she wasn’t even my contact. She was my contact to my contact. My actual contact, I emailed, and emailed to no avail. My mid-contact gave me a new email address to try. I tried that. Again to no avail. I’ll point out that before it even got to this point, I was waiting and waiting to hear from my mid-contact. Finally I found an email address for her, and she tells me she has been emailing me for months…you guessed it…to no avail. It never occurred to her to ask someone if she had the correct email. It only occurred to her to berate me for not responding. Even after I explained that I never received an email. I guess Russians are psychic and don’t need to actually receive emails. Oh wait, that’s certainly not true, as I emailed my actual contact several times to no avail. Well, about a month after my arrival, I met with the director of my faculty. He happens to be Rotary. I explained my situation to him, after all, these people gave me a lot of money, I have obligations. He basically tells me, “Russians do not have the time Americans have. Don’t expect them to have time to help you.” I’ll point out here, that this gentleman took me into his office to personally meet and congratulate me on my grant. His never made any expression better than a grimace. I guess a handshake is good enough.
Let’s cut to the present. Two months into my time here, I decide to try once more. I email my mid-contact and ask if I can come to a meeting. I’d been waiting to be invited and had decided that if they didn’t want to see me, then I had no real obligations. But then I thought, I need to try harder. Even if my contact doesn’t have time, I might still meet some interesting people. So she gave me directions to the meeting. I arrived. To a terribly cold reception. They referred to me as “Invisible Rebecca”. Again, they went out of their way to fault me for all the mis-communication problems. It was completely impossible for it to be anyone’s fault but my own. I seriously wanted to cry. Finally, the mid-contact comes. About an hour late. Oddly enough, she was overwhelmingly nice! And then another man came up and introduced himself. Then back to the bitch of a president. Well, anyway. In the end, I think the general consensus is that I’m a slack American who has been joyriding on their dime for the past two months, but some are going to overlook that.
So the meeting. Quite interesting. Conducted in Russian, so I just barely caught the gist, but basically, they did the normal Rotary things. Then they began discussing how they could modernize the material discussed at meetings. Make it more relevant to modern problems. The word “Creeses” is said quite a lot. Then the room devolves into chaos more or less as it is argued what are appropriate topics. Then they had me stand up and talk about myself. Which was...well ok. For having prepared nothing, I managed to pull it off. Then before we left, one gentleman stood and delivered a poem he had written for the women of the club. It was quite heartfelt. You see today is Women’s Day. They don’t take this holiday lightly. It’s quite serious. We have the day off school tomorrow in celebration. I’m sure after Monday though, it’s back to beatings as usual. In fact, part of the Easter celebrations in Slavic countries involves beating women with sticks. In gest, but there has to be some social commentary to be said about this.
Well, in order to clean up this mess that I’ve been put in, I have to say yes to pretty much everything asked of me. So Friday I joined an older Rotarian at a talent show at a local deaf school. It was actually quite entertaining. I met with the director of the school and she seemed like a genuinely caring woman. The kids all seemed happy and well taken care of, which was a relief to me, considering they have to live at the school too, oh and it’s Russia.
So Happy Women's Day! Go do something nice for all the women in your life!
Friday, March 6, 2009
What is the point of putting a sign on the coatrack that says, "Don't forget your coat". The last time you see that sign is when you hang your coat. If the existence of your coat, and oh I don't know, the snow and frigid temperatures, aren't enough to make you remember to take your coat when you leave....
The metro makes it to Nevsky (station). Then the conductor comes on the mic and says we aren't continuing on this path, we're now going to Saddovaya, at least I think that's what he says. Which is fine, it's the sister station to the one I need. My guess is the construction on line 5 (new line being built in SPB) is causing problems. Anyway, the train starts going backwards. And backwards, and backwards. And it seems we will never reach Saddovaya. Then it stops. No station. Just the bussing of the massive electric machine that I am now confined in. And then a low boom. And then another. But closer. My heart is now about to explode from anxiety. I am in a small metal tube. Underground. What the hell is that noise. I know that one by one, the cars behind me are being blown off the rails. I know this. Everyone is looking in the direction of the noise. And then....the conductor walks into our car...and slams the door. Yes. That is all it was. He had to walk to the other end of the train to continue the journey. When I finally reached Saddovaya, I could barely walk I was shaking so bad.
This is an excerpt from an email I sent to my dear mother who sends me the greatest reports about how everything is going to hell:
"American's are terribly ignorant. It's sad really. I don't think they realize how little control they have on a lot off things ( I was referencing control in the world, not within the country). We aren't the super power we used to be. We started as a nation of rebels, hellbent to do anything we needed to survive. The weak died off early and only the strong survived to build the nation. But we've bred complacency, etc. back in and everyone thinks we can remain a super power no matter what we do. Sure, it's likely, but it's not definite anymore. Just "being" great isn't enough to stay top dog. Rome fell, so will we. China, while facing a bubble is full of people who have drive and motivation. Russia is full of people in general and a government willing to stop at nothing. And we've managed with our little skirmish in the mid east, to piss off most of the Arab nation and force them to scatter across the globe and start reproducing like rabbits, a force we will never overtake with all the arms in the world. I know we are a doomed world, I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm going to look for a job."
And that is what I am doing now.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
(You'll notice only a few deformed ones. They must have upped the quality for the introduction. I'm sure in a month or so, they'll all be misshapen.)