Winter Specials

September 5, 2008

Die-hard clubbers and ice-fishermen share an invisible bond: it’s them and not the morning factory shift who fill in the first Metro train at the break of dawn; an intersection, where both sleep-deprived groups merge before going off their separate ways. There is no further understanding between them: just like heroin addicts, ice fishermen recognize only their own kind and, unless you are one of them, you meet the wall when you look into their eyes.
My memory has the record of the only time this crack in the social sidewalk was bridged. A friend of mine, the drummer in a band, was coming from an all-nighter. He was carrying bits of a drum-kit. The guy sitting opposite had some massive drills on him. They checked each other’s tools with mutual respect.
Indeed, no matter what mind-altering substances are consumed by an average clubber on a night out, compared to the state of mind of an ice-fisherman (imagine all the Zen of fishing multiplied by the cold of a winter morning, plus all the future uncertainty a fresh ice cover may offer) its all just chicken-shit.

Sadly, local ice-fishermen are a dying breed, winters in St. Pete are not as cold as they used to be, in fact they, just like the Russian Christmas, are no more (someone was really bad, I guess). What we have instead of a winter is five months of misery: its still dark when its time to get up for work and its already dark when its time to go home. The air is nice and warm, thanks to the heavy through traffic and seriously damp as well, thanks to the heavy through traffic again. Consequently it might be only minus five but it feels deadly (just like when you get out of the shower and the room feels seriously cold, do you know what I mean?).
People of St. Petersburg generally spend their winters in, hugging radiators and counting the days to the first sunshine. Outdoors isn’t fun anymore, the gray and slushy muck that covers pavements can only be classed as a parody of real snow.
When I was a kiddie we used to scoot on black ice and do cross-country skiing in the suburbs. Nowadays, the only bit of winter activity that is still on offer in St. Petersburg is the ice-skating. There is an ice-skating rink directly on Dvortsovaya and some other rinks set up in most parks around and out of town.

However, if you want a real Russian winter you have to chase it. This means going Tundra. But don’t just go anywhere, my friend, shop around. Kamchatka along with mount Elbrus guarantee some of the best skiing/snowboarding adventures. Lake Baikal is sure to provide some breathtaking scenery to go with its dog-sledding. Ekaterinburg is famous for its “Troika” rides and other romantic winter escapades.

To be perfectly frank, Siberia is not exactly my bag of hammers, I’ve only been there once during winter and I retain fond memories of the hotel I holed myself up into. Not because I was dressed slightly inappropriately, although I would not advise anybody to travel that far North without some sort of a hat and a pair of gloves, I just didn’t feel like getting out of my room. We all get slightly anti-social from time to time, I guess.

Filed under: Russia - everyday life
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 12:40 pm

Killing Melancholy

August 27, 2008

“St. Petersburg is such a beautiful city, its the Northern Venice!”. Oh, shut up already. You should try St. Pete when rain don’t let up for a week and wind blows most of it into your face with traffic adding that extra bit of water onto your shoe and lower trouser leg…
I feel sad. I know what this is. Its the last week of August and I got the blues. Happens to me every year since I was a child. Something to do with this week being the last week before the new school year starts, I guess.
I know, by mid-September I will be alright again, but meanwhile I need help.
Over the years I found that drugs don’t work (alcohol is a drug too, remember!) - they only make things worse (unless you are a long term user, in this case do not stop using without taking medical advice). In fact, there only two kinds of therapy that work perfectly against the autumn blues syndrome: true love or escape to a geographical dive.

The true love has to be a particular type of girl (or boy if you are a straight female or a homosexual male): she has to have the right sort of eyes. The rest of true love, as far as therapy goes, don’t matter, although it helps if she has a good rear and a nice pair of legs. The eyes have to be blue. Its better if they are larger then your own. The best are slightly cloudy on the surface but should have something like a grainy backdrop deep at the bottom. Look into this pair of eyes for a while and you will feel better. Much better. Perfect.
There are some minor setbacks with the situation though. Girls (or boys) like this are not easily available at this time of year. And you have to give something in return, as its not fair to just take.

For those who are happily married (myself included) or not looking for other relationships it’s the second option: to take a fortnight off and go somewhere else. Somewhere slightly more miserable than you present surroundings.
In this case, for many, St. Petersburg is the ideal travel destination at this time of year.
This kind of therapy is based on the same principal as the idea of watching telly to counter-act a particularly bad day: a cheerful feature might kill you, a horror movie is almost certain to help you to bounce back to life.

I myself, have already booked a flight to Manchester and am looking forward to seeing all the horrible red brick houses of Salford drenched in rain, their residents looking worse for wear, sitting in dingy pubs crying in their pints of bitter. I don’t really know what to do if you are already living in Manchester though. Is it possible to find a place to go where you could sink even lower? Or is it easier to simply kill yourself?

Of course all of the above does not count if you are a dynamic person living an exciting life fulfilled by work, friends and family. In this case you might ask yourself why did you waste time reading all this? Fear not, nobody goes home empty-handed. Take every second word of this post and make a sentence. Repeat the procedure using every third word, then every forth and so on. Take away half of what you got and you will end up with a something that might seem a little nonsensical at first glance but after some digging will turn into a charming post-modernistic poem about a pig dancing in a court-yard. Have fun!

Filed under: Russia - everyday life
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 12:41 pm

Never Talk To Strangers

August 1, 2008

Russian underground network known as the Metro is cheap, reliable and gets you places fast - a bit like Tesco’s own brand lager. It is also crowded, full of the most terrible smells and has the worst light possible - people look hundreds of years old. Soviet engineers were striving to create the most comfortable conditions for passengers and failed miserably, while self-indulgent architects responsible for the Metro luxury interior succeeded and many stations represent significant landmarks.

I know somebody who works for the London underground. He is a keen photographer too. When in St. Petersburg he was well impressed with the Metro. His natural instinct was to draw his camera and take few quick snaps of the inside. A man dressed in a dark uniform came to his side and gently tugged on his sleeve. They talked. At the time I was there trapped in a two-dimensional continuum of the world of used stationery, unable to talk and invisible but able to see and hear everything. The man in a dark uniform said: “You does not have rite to photography. It is illegal. You go to prison!” “Tell ‘im to #&£$-off!” I shouted but to no avail. You see, once they get you talking to them, they may produce all sorts of papers saying it is against the legislation to do whatever you were doing and jail is awaiting you unless you pay a reasonable fine. Which is likely to be all the cash you got on you. The trick is to stay ignorant, not to respond and walk away. But do it with style. It helps if you are physically stronger than your opponent.

Some factual things about the Metro in St. Petersburg:
Its alive between 5.30 in a morning and 12.30 a.m.
It has four lines. They run from the outskirts through the centre. There they all intersect at one of the main stations.
The means of paying are either tokens (good for one journey) or magnetic cards (valid for ten or more journeys). Both purchasable at the station. Once you have paid your fare you may stay on the Metro as long as you need or want. Once you get off, you need to pay again - a bit like in New York.

All signs are in Russian, so are all announcements. To navigate efficiently within the metro get yourself one of network maps displaying the Cyrillic and transliterated names to hand.
Some stations have open platforms and some have concourses with safety doors. These open when the train comes to the platform.
As the train approaches a stop, the name of the station, changes for another line (if any) and the name of the next station will be announced. However, if you don’t speak the language you’re not likely to catch on, its best to keep count of the stops or check against the wall map inside your train car.
Please note, there is an attendant in a form of stern “babushka” sitting in a booth at the bottom of each escalator. You better be on your best behavior mate, or she will yell at you!

That be it for now. Remember to stand clear of the doors.

Filed under: Russia - everyday life, St. Petersburg — Everyday Life
Tags: , , , , , , , — sasha @ 4:54 pm