You’re not going out looking like that

There was one moment last semester, when I was running late to meet someone, that has got me thinking as of late. It was the weekend, and I had woken up late, was an overall wreck, and was essentially trying to just roll out the door in a slightly slovenly fashion. I ran past my host mom to the front door, and as I was putting on my shoes, she said something along the lines of, “Are you sure you’re ready to go?” Well, sure I was…at least, I thought I was. She gave me a look and walked into the kitchen. I stopped in my tracks. Was there something on my face?

Apparently, the problem was that there wasn’t anything on my face — as in no makeup, nothing. And that wasn’t socially acceptable. Maybe I’m over exaggerating a bit, and maybe I read Tanya’s words wrong, but I’m pretty sure that was the reason she asked me. At first, I was somewhat offended, but as I thought more and more about it, I began to think that maybe she was right to stop me from going out looking like death. I still can’t tell if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Russian women, especially young women, go out every day like they’re on their way to a soiree. There’s a huge emphasis on amping up their sexuality — the stilettos, the cut out clothes, the heavy makeup, the rail-thin bodies, etc. But at the same time, for what it’s worth, there is something to be learned: to go out everyday looking your best. Both societies share the same (shallow?) attitudes — as in first impressions are a lasting impression, and in Russia (and America, too) you meet someone first through their exterior (внешний вид). If you can’t fight the system, join the system, and in young America’s case, that means stop rolling out of bed and going to class in sweatpants.

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The Gulf of Finland is actually just one big toilet

For the 234th birthday of America, a group of us headed out to Kurort, which, if I understand correctly, is actually a sanatorium located on the Gulf of Finland. The northern sun was sweltering and the Gulf of Finland was just begging to be swum in. And of course, we zealously-misguided-yet-patriotic Americans had to celebrate Independence Day with a bang. If there was any one day where it was permissible to be an obnoxiously loud American, today was the day. Equipped with various fun drinks and a frisbee (a perversely American outdoor toy), we hopped on an electrichka for a “patriotic” day at the beach. I’m not going to get into detail, but it was an absolutely fabulous day — the perfect way to celebrate America Day and the perfect excuse to drink ourselves silly on the beach.

Look Ma, I'm in the Gulf of Finland!

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Pinky up and Let’s Celebrate America Day

I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that even though I live only about a stone’s throw away from the Mariinskii Theater, this past Monday was the first time I’ve actually been inside. I didn’t even go inside the Mariinskii, to tell you the truth — we went into their new concert hall, which is even closer to where I live.

THE Mariinsky theater. Pastel green is the new black.

We were fortunate enough to have the chance to see Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto and Liszt’s A Symphony to Dante’s Divine Comedia. I was on my seat’s edge the entire time — I can’t even begin to describe how absolutely moving the orchestra was, and especially how spellbinding the soloist was. In a nutshell, I was moved to tears. Needless to say, this will not be the last time I’m heading over to the theater. I should have taken advantage of my proximity to cultural greatness sooner.

In other news, the day of America’s independence and essential birth is tomorrow. I have never been really big on celebrating Independence Day, but the fact that I’m in Russia on America Day makes me feel a bit compelled to do something special. Maybe especially American. Whatever I end up doing, there is a very high chance (100%, actually) that I will end up eating an absurd amount of hot dogs* and then crying in the bosom of my fellow Americans, yearning for my long lost homeland.

Fighting for justice and independence.

*Does anyone know where I can find a goddamn hot dog bun around here? Do I have to fashion one out of black bread?

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The most adorable statue ever

St. Petey’s has some really magnificent and awe-inspiring monuments and architecture — the Bronze Horseman being a classic example or the Horse Tamers on the Fontanka. But this little guy really takes the cake for the cutest monument ever.

Chijik Pyjik! (Чижик Пыжик)

At 11 cm tall, I’m pretty sure it’s the tiniest monument ever. People throw coins at it and if the coin lands on the little bird’s perch, you get to make a wish. My host mom and I went on another marathon walk* and she poured a handful of kopecks into my hand. However, because I am severely lacking in the hand-eye coordination area, I wasn’t able to land a coin.

This little guy also comes with a famous ditty! Unfortunately, I only know the first 2 lines:
Chijik Pyjik, gde ty byl?
Na Fontanke vodku pil.

Chijik Pyjik, where have you been?
Drinking vodka on the Fontanka.

*Since the weather’s a little better, my host mom loves to take me on walks. I thought walks meant strolling around for 30 minutes or 45 minutes at the most. I was wrong. Tanya power strolls for 3 hours at the minimum. (Yesterday, we went on a 11km walk for fun.) And when I say power stroll, I mean she speedily darts between crowds of people, leaving me defenseless and helpless in a sea of Russians. Tourist season is high upon us, but that also means a ton of Russian tourists pour in from other cities. All tourists are the same — they walk with that confused, dazed look on their faces, with their head tilted up at an angle. Which means that they don’t watch where they’re going.

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Rasputin was hung like a horse

The other day, a group of us went to the Erotica Museum after school to check out Rasputin’s embalmed chlen – member. I use the word “museum” in the loosest possible sense — it’s a couple of glass cases filled with genitalia shaped into fun figurines and Rasputin’s pickled dick, which is the main exhibit. It’s also located in the Prostate Center (and I think AIDS clinic?) , so while we’re there, giggling, there are people sitting, waiting to get tested for STDs and prostate issues.

I also highly doubt this thing is real. There is a major loophole in their story. Even if a couple of robbers decided to chop off Rasputin’s weiner, they’d have to immediately preserve it, or else, well it’d dry out or rot. And formaldehyde isn’t really a household item. It’s probably a sea-cucumber or something. All the same, it’s still kind of a shock/absolutely hilarious to see a 30cm and two-fist thick dick in a jar.

Rasputin was really popular with the ladies though - they'd literally line up just to sleep with him.

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Throwing the coin into the fountain

“Let’s go for a walk.” I readily agreed. The weather had been grey-scale and rainy for most of the day on Sunday, and it was depressingly cold for a summer’s day. Only around 8 pm did the stormy clouds part to blue skies and sun. Tanya, my host mom, and I set off for Palace Square (Дворцовая Площадь) from our house, passing by the Mariinskii Theater and the Cathedral of St. Isaac’s on the way.

Исаакиевский собор

On our way back, we took a small detour in Aleksandrovskii Garden. Leading me by the arm, Tanya took me to the fountain that was in the center. “Look at the arc in the middle. If the sun hits the fountain in just the right spot, a rainbow appears. If we had left just a little bit earlier, we would have seen it.” I leaned against the fountain and stared up at the sun, in disbelief that it was almost 10:30 at night. Reaching into my bag, I fished out two 10-kopeck coins, one for her and one for myself.

“Ah, you have to throw the coin as far as you can, you know that?” The farther the throw, the better chance that the wish will come true, right? The wind up, and then the throw. I watched as my coin disappeared into the sunlight and somewhere into the fountain.

“Your coin practically flew!” Tanya exclaimed gleefully.

I wished that I could stay in St. Petersburg, not only for the summer, but for the year and more. In the past five months that I have been here, I realized that I still have so much to see and learn, and that I have barely scratched the surface. I am just beginning to understand what it is like to live here and I have finally adjusted to the daily rhythm of the city. I am finally beginning to understand the Russian character and soul, and at the same time, I am finally beginning to realize that I still know nothing at all about this enigmatic and historic city. It’s not just my wish to return to Russia, it’s my goal, and I will find a way to come back here.

St. Petersburg, for better or for worse, I have fallen deeply in love with you.

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Yes No Maybe.

It was a typical rainy morning in St. Petersburg, and Tanya was complaining about how cold it was and how she hated having wet shoes. As she was staring out the window and cursing Peter the Great for having built this city on a bog and bones, I asked her if she wanted my rain boots. She muttered a reply: Da net naverno (да нет наверно). Yes no maybe. I paused. So what was her answer, does she want my rain boots or not?

Russians have this way of answering Da Net, which from my understanding, is a soft no — a мягкая нет, in the words of my host mom. The person wants to say yes, or wouldn’t be against saying yes, but, unfortunately, has to say no. At least that’s what my host mom said. And usually, I can tell the answer from the way the person says da net. But Da net naverno threw me off. Which one is it, no or maybe? Is it a maybe leaning towards a no? Or is it a no leaning towards uncertainty? Or is it just an unsure no? Or is it one of those answers where the no means yes but they just say no to be polite? I asked my host mom to clarify and she laughed at me. “It all depends on how the person says it. Everything also depends on the situation, koneshno. Of course.” Nothing in this damn language is straight forward.

One of the reasons I took Russian is because my high school Russian teacher told me it was the easiest language to learn, because it doesn’t have all those annoying perfective, imperfective, plus-que-parfait, etc aspects of Romance languages. My high school Russian teacher was also lying out of his ass. He’s Polish, and I have a conspiracy theory that he secretly wanted all of his students to hate Russian by telling them it was an easy language and then having them painfully find out that it wasn’t so. And I have painfully found out that Russian isn’t easy. Too late to turn back now and switch back to French. I threw 14 years of French away for probably 14 more years of toiling and confusion in Russian.

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