Saturday, 31 December 2011

С Новым Годом! Happy New Year!

It's 2012, year of the dragon. Russians do New Year rather than Christmas (hangover from Soviet times, I believe), and it's a strange fusion of East meets West. Go into any supermarket and you'll find inflatable santas, overpriced trees and the usual array of decorations, except in addition there are bloody dragons everywhere, on boxes of sweets, on baubles and above the bold English words 'Merry Christmas' on doormats. Russia clearly has something of an identity crisis going on. The semi festive atmosphere did, however, make me pretty eager to get home, and come the 17th of December I was packed and more organised to go than I ever have been. Typically this is when Firdaus decided to be a really awesome host again, and cooked the best dinner of the entire stay, forced wine down our throats and gave us 'Russkii balsam'- a blend of herbs, spices and fruits, apparently. Pretty potent herbs it seems, judging by the 42% alcohol content label printed on the side. She, rather awkwardly, told me RSD was in disbelief at the amount of destruction I could cause (the mirror, incidentally, was sent to be recut and is now a nice wavy pattern), insisted on trawling through every photo on my facebook, telling me off for looking healthy in some of them and not now (ta, Firdaus) and gave something of an opinion on the election results - No, she didn't vote for Edinaya Rossiya, but what alternative is there to Putin? Cue extreme confusion over her having had 20 odd Edinaya Rossiya calendars in the kitchen a while back.
Going home was a lengthy process. Up at 5ish, train at 7.15, in Moscow at 11.15, tube to another station, station to the airport. Then about 4 hours waiting just for check in to open and another 3 or 4 to get on the plane. Just after having passports stamped and visas checked, getting ready to scan everything, we freaked. A Russian man in uniform and hat approached us. 'Devushki'.  Crap. Convinced we were about to be thrown out of the airport to stay in Russia over Christmas (they know it's more of a punishment than being kicked out), I panicked. Scary official guy starts talking, mentions a journey on the train to Yaroslavl, and we realise that it's the same man we met on the train back from Moscow when I went to the hospital. Awesome. My suspicions at his checking my passport on the train to see 'if he had stamped it' were clearly unfounded. He was rather pleased to see us, and we were rather relieved to be allowed through security. Was a bit odd he actually recognised us, but hey, being English makes you a celebrity there. It was a nice end to the trip, especially the not geting arrested bit.

So, after a 4 hour flight on which the best meal I'd had in 4 months (no joke-beef lasagne ftw) was served, I was back in England. Tip- If you are ever delayed and circling Heathrow on the way back from Yarosavl (as you often are), spotting football pitches and marvelling at real motorways will fascinate you. We had to stop for salt and vinegar crisps on the way back-Russia hasn't caught on to the wonder that is them, nor prawn cocktail, then I made a massive fuss over seeing my dog, who has managed to lose her sight and hearing since I've been away. Then I vaguely said hello to my Mum, who, as she still possesses all her senses (arguably), was not as interesting.
In quick succession followed:
Drinking from the tap
Running (once) up the stairs to prove that my house actually had them
Eating real cottage cheese
The best shower ever
A real bed with a real mattress
Being told off for not saying please and being too abrupt. Russia has had its effects.
Blackout and sleeping the night through for the first time in months.

Anyway, I did have somewhere I was going with this, but honestly, I got distracted by flashmob videos on youtube. I'm sorry...
The gist is, that it's good to be back home. And it's good to be able to understand everything that people say to you. And it's good not to feel like a bit of a burden all the time. But Russia is still fairly cool. In small doses. And I will be going back besides Petersburg. Good times.


Sunday, 4 December 2011

The rise of the Babushki, a sprinkling of снег and 14 days left

2 weeks til I go hoooooome! I haven't been counting until now, because I haven't been particularly desperate to get home, but seriously, it's time.
I have spent most of the last two weeks in bed. Every so often my body goes into complete meltdown and refuses to work, (more so than usual) and so I have been passing the time in a blur of neuralgia, exhaustion, weird burning and numb patches and insomnia. One day, my doctors might figure out what is going on, but until then, Russia or not, I take regular breaks from functioning. Normally I just get on
with it, but Firdaus is being a bit...babish. That is, she's nagging and being annoying in the manner of a babushka. I've lost count of how many times she's been told I need to be left alone to sleep and that I'm fine, but she doesn't listen and continues to annoy Hannah asking about me and lying about how she's being phoned by uni every day to ask where I am. Weirdly, she then said I don't like her partner (or possibly that he doesn't like me, Hannah was confused with the grammar)...which is true either way, but it's definitely him scowling and refusing to speak to me which has led to me disliking him. He makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable. Noob. It's ok, soon I'll be in England, where I can understand everything and sleep in my own bed and eat food that isn't fried or covered in dill. Steamed brocolli. Parnsips. Chive cottage cheese. This is my current craving. Mm.

Dill. Ketchup for Russians.
On the subject of food, Firdaus is currently doing her head in over the fact I refuse to eat her's. The compromise she came up with was that she'd just cook lots of veg for me, but when I eat vegetables, I prefer them as the main component rather than as a side to 10 gallons of oil. There is nothing her frying pan can't tackle. Pancakes for breakfast one morning? Leftover gets made into blinochki s tvorogom (tvorog wrapped in blini) and refried the next morning! Whenever she proudly announces that something is 'tatarskii!' you know there's going to be something of an oil waterfall going on when you pick it up. Pizza for breakfast is an interesting one too, but I have yet to work out the reason for smearing mayo all over the base. There's been cake for breakfast too, but Russian cake often seems to be a block of cream with a few biscuity/spongey things poked in at random.
There is also a bizarre amount of corriander used in soup, especially in solyanka, which is a mix of every kind of meat you can fit in the pot, mixed with cabbage. Except that Firdaus uses 5 kinds of kolbasa and, according to my analysis of the wikipedia picture, about 10 times too much corriander. And then there is dill. If a meal is to be complete, there must be liberal sprinklings mountains of the stuff all over everything, and in everything. Who wouldn't be ecstatic to find secret dill pockets in their extra dill topped pizza base?! However we have found that the hypermarket Globus serves amazing spaghetti bolognaise, so long as you factor in the time spent de dilling it. Totes worth it though.

Ok I'll stop whinging about the food, RSD and health now.
On to Babushki!
Firstly, can I just make it abundantly clear that this should be pronounced babushki. Screw you Kate Bush for spending 10 weeks in the charts slaughtering the pronunciation for everyone.

An informative definition, including a lovely illustration
 for your comprehension benefit. Note that I
am referring to definition 2.
Russian Babushki are an interesting breed. Described as the 'Russian national treasure' by several Russians I know, they are simultaneously acknowledged to be terrors. These old women (the word Бабушка/babushka means grandmother) are a force to be reckoned with. I've had a few run ins with babushki, most revolving around public transport. Most recently one launched an attack on my arm because I refused to let go of the rail on the bus when she wanted to get through. Aside from the fact that you could have got a small herd of elephants through the gap at which she was protesting, I have a suspicion that the bus driver had bribed someone for his license, and I refuse to risk another Russian hospital visit because of broken limbs just to appease some insane bab. I would have let go when the bus stopped, it's not as if it the half a metre to the door which she had to traverse would have been overly taxing for her, but the swearing and attempts to de-arm me awoke my stubborn streak, so I just looked at her a little amused...or bemused..I'm not sure which it was. You are supposed to ask if people are getting off at the next stop on transport here (as the much younger woman did to me afterwards, well done her)so there's no pushing through, but babs are immune it seems.

I've observed them legging it down a road to catch the bus faster than I ever could, push their way through the crowd to get on first and on discovering all the seats to be full, develop some hyper onset crippling disease which severely limits their ability to walk or stand (someone should really look into this disease, I suspect a diagnosis of lyingcowovitis). Then they stand in front of you, staring as you feebly tighten your grip on whatever heavy shopping your visibly exhausted self has sitting on your lap, eyes desperately searching the ground to avoid theirs which you can feel boring their way into your brain, locating the bit responsible for guilt, and twisting it until you haul yourself up and squeeze past so they can take your seat. Lyingcowovitis is often characterised by a relay effect, in which the original affected bab gets off after only one stop and another gets on only to be immediately struck by the disease. Effects on those who surround the afflicted include extreme rage and expletive filled muttering whilst struggling to keep the smetana from being jolted out of the shopping as the bus/trolleybus/marshrutka collides through the streets.

Your typical babushka. I doubt I need to translate, but:
'Parasite, give babushka your seat!'
Note the emty seats all around
And the running shoes
And the grievous bodily harm.
Yeah, Babushki. -_-

I swear I'm not bitter.

And after that massive whinge...CНЕГ! 

I shall leave you with the snow. It's mild here (-4ish generally, sometimes drops but always seems to pick up again) and the snow hasn't really settled, but when it does, it is fun to play in it :)

Nice and calm, making footprints in fresh snow
Hannah, less calm, more yetti, also making footprints 

Being Masha, the Yaro Bear

One minute I was happily standing on my snow mountain
The next I was a bit stuck.