Saturday, 10 March 2012

The niceties of life in St Petersburg. And George

It takes a few weeks to figure out what is exactly what in Russia. So, I've worked out who I need to do the homework for and who is still going to heap praise on me regardless of what semi comprehensible toddler babble I make up on the spot. I've worked out that copious amounts of fanta will get me through 2 out of 3 90 minute lessons, but will almost certainly result in a visual migraine and nothing will keep me awake for the 3rd lesson, so best save the roubles, submit to snoozing and avoid the prisms and pain. I've worked out that I can stay in bed until 9 and still be in at 10, but not to risk showering in a hurry because it will result in trips to the аптека (apteka, chemist -about 97 on every street, generally located next door to the 24 hour flower shop-ready for your midnight carnations craving) for burns gel. So yeah, pretty much all sorted on the routine front.

24 hour flower shop. Everywhere in Russia. I can only assume Russian men are constantly getting thrown out/staying out too late drinking, and these shops exist to make a killing on their attempts to redeem themselves

What I am still confused about, however, is the living situation. When I arrived, it was me, Tania and the two American guys, Marc and Jim. Jim left to go home last week, Marc moved to his own flat a little before, leaving me and Tania with Lyudmila. And George.
George is Lyudmila's older son. She has two. I estimate that he is somewhere in his late 30s, but as he spends his life sitting round the flat in, at most, a vest and boxers which are too small to deal with his pot belly, my judgement may be a little distorted - I don't want to risk looking for too long. I gather that he once had a job, but lost it. Lyudmila kicked George out when Jim got fed up of sharing a room with Marc when they were both paying full price. So Jim had what is essentially the lounge (Russian sleeping arrangements are flexible to say the least-Lyudmila regularly adopts the kitchen as her bedroom) and George went 'to the suburbs'.
I enjoyed this arrangement, as George's scantily-clad omnipresence made me uncomfortable. However, Jim left, and George was back like a shot. 'The suburbs' must be some kind of gangster wielding ghetto, judging by the lightning speed at which he reappeared, shouting at Lyudmila over the amount of time we spend chatting at the breakfast table. To my mind, he's a fairly intolerable, lazy bastard and I truly can not comprehend the affection with which Lyudmila talks about him, even when he is clearly ignoring her calls when he failed to honour his promise to pick her up in his car. Of course 'the electricity to his phone' is working, Lyudmila, he's just a waste of space and can't be bothered. Saying that, I can think of other mothers who are, to lesser degrees, similar with their own male offspring. But anyway. Now his bed/sofa/table/general hovel is directly next to my own bed in the next room, so I am left pondering the reasons as to why he can't use all his excess tv watching, loud phone call making energy at 3am  for something more productive during the daytime, such as cleaning or purchasing some new clothes.

He makes us feel very uncomfortable. You can't go into the kitchen if George is there. Walking past his room while the door is open will generally get it slammed shut on you. He bitches about us in between arguing with his mother and prancing about in his boxers, cooking buckwheat and not clearing up. Which might go some way to explaining the cockroaches living in the kitchen, a discovery I made the other night looking for some clean drinking water. I have not touched the food or drink since.

HAH. I googled 'cockroach' in Russian and it gave me this. How topical, given the current post election riots :D

It's pretty!

I shall be having words with the reps on Monday. I don't particularly want to move, as it's a good location and the flat is decent- it just needs to be cleaned. And de-cockroached. And de-Georged. And it would be nice if Lyudmila would knock rather than just walk into your room unannounced as you're hopping all over the place trying to pull on your tights, just to announce that 'we are going to drink tea (no we aren't) and eat the soup with the fish (also no, Lyudmila).
Aside from all of this, I like Petersburg. There's infinitely more to do, more possibility in every sense and a really rather good pizza place nearby that I seem to be spending a disproportionate amount of time in.

There's already been two national holidays since I've been here. Coming from the country with the fewest of these, I'm thinking Russia have got it seriously right, especially considering that one was Women's Day. I had two days off school for this-it was on Thursday but we got Friday off too-and happened to be on Nevsky Prospekt during the day. This is the main street in St. Petersburg, setting for many of the most famous of the Russian novels, notably Gogol's 'Nevsky Prospekt' (imaginative title, I know) and Dostoevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' ...As an aside, classic Russian literature is amazing. Read it. And then do what I did and live in the most historic part of Piter where you can retrace your protagonist's steps through the haymarket. Or, you know, don't. Whatever.

Kazan Cathedral, Nevsky Prospekt

On Women's Day, wandering down the Prospekt outside Kazan Cathedral and past Dom Knigi (the bookshop in which I'll happily spend 3 hours), I was given flowers by three separate men and nearly accepted a heart shaped balloon, only I realised that I had to take a bus back home by myself and regularly get completely lost, so I'd look a bit of an idiot standing at a random bus stop in the suburbs with my pink balloon, all alone. The gangsters who drove George away will probably know who I am, given that he is, more than likely given his svelte spy like physique, a top espionage expert and thus at the top of their most wanted list. I felt a pink floating heart would not aid my quest for inconspicuousness. So, balloonless, I marvelled at the number of restaurants offering free champagne for women all day and carried on about my business with my 3 flowers. Handy Tip: Odd numbers of flowers only, in Russia, unless they're for a funeral. Don't get it confused. That would be awkward.

Outside the Winter Palace and the Hermitage, period characters wander nonchalantly  around on the ice
Church of the Saviour on spilled blood - where Alexander II was killed
Some lovely soldiers on men's day, or, officially День защитника  Отечества (Den zaschitnika Otechestva) Defender of the Fatherland day.

I've been doing some touristy things and wandering round impossibly large galleries pretending to appreciate the technicalities of the art on display, taking crappy pictures on my phone because the one thing I forgot is the wire to connect my camera to the laptop, and ridiculously, there's no card reader on here. I could still take decent photos and then upload them all to marvel at forgotten memories once I'm done here, but I need fairly instant gratification because I have the attention span and perseverance of a turnip, so that's that out of the question. I've taken some spectacular falls in the ice but my marshmallow coat has provided decent protection and my fur hat has shielded me from almost certain brain damage when a spiky chunk of ice descended from the roof to connect with my head. Such love for my hat. Oh and occasionally I stop to watch people wandering all over the frozen rivers which separate Saint Petersburg into islands whilst eating a pirog.

On the bank of the Neva, outside Peter and Paul Fortress....that's a river behind us. We could have walked across, but chose the safer, firmer option of the road.

So yes. It's a fairly decent existence here so far. I've discovered it takes no more than 2 Russian beers for me to feel thoroughly drunk, but I can counter that with a brisk walk in -13 night air. I'm having some nasty spikes of neuralgia and seem to be getting exhausted pretty quickly, but there's already a doctor's visit on the cards, so that will be another little adventure! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some malteasers I must attend to while watching Russia's eurovision entry. Flights to Azerbaijan are looking pretty damned tempting just now...

Бурановские Бабушки

 (Buranovskie Babushki! Singing in Udmurt to raise money for a church in their village and now in eurovision )

And if that has whetted your appetite.....

and for the Eagles fans out there:

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