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

Bad Religion

August 20, 2008

Sundays about 2 p.m. I am usually busy ignoring the procession of Hari-Krishnas who sing and dance their way down my street much to the amusement of local drunks. “Any religion that expects you to perform weird things in order to celebrate your faith, looks a bit dodgy to me”, says my wife. Not just a pretty face, is she?

I can’t be classed as a church-goer myself, but some of the things God seems to want us to do (be a good person, do not murder/steal/etc) are perfectly in tune with my own philosophy of life.
If somebody uses religion as the ultimate pain-killer (my dad does that), I don’t mind. If somebody, in order to feel that their god is truly and properly celebrated, wants to be subjected to all sorts of uncomfortable rituals (my dad does that too), I don’t mind either.
I do believe, if God exists (and as I don’t know for sure, I am not denying God, why take chances?) we all are his/her holy and innocent children until proven otherwise, no matter what gods we do celebrate and how.

To me, religion starts to stink when people try and push their religious brands down other people’s throats. Isn’t it slightly odd that some think their god would like them to put on business suits and go out selling their faith door to door?

Once, after my wife and I just had a baby, we were in, waiting for health visitors. You know how it is when a new baby arrives: you don’t get enough sleep etc, so when I opened the door at the sound of the door-bell and there were two women standing there, dressed in smart navy-colored suits, I simply said: “Come on in”.
I was a little surprised when the answer was “No, first we would like just to have a little chat”, but I quickly caught on when the leaflets appeared. According to the rules of our street I had to say “Jesus *&%$-ing Christ!” (no thank you) and shut the door in their faces (it was nice talking to you, have a good day).
I swear, the expression of extreme worry when I asked them in, changed into expression of extreme relief after I told them to f*ck-off. Is it because they only know the first step of the drill: hand a leaflet, and as people are not supposed to take one, they don’t have an action plan for the next stage of conversion? Or maybe these are like ground troops or scouts, and the next stage (a visit to the prospective convert’s house for a theological discussion) is carried out by other, much higher priests?

I recall, in the mid-nineties, St. Petersburg suffered an invasion of American Evangelists. Some of them were standing next to churches handing a free copy of the Bible to every person who was going in. Apparently they were trying to convert Russians to Christianity. In English too.

Russians are one of the most Christian and god-fearing nations in the world - this is reflected in the quality and quantity of places of worship. Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities offer an exciting selection of cultural and architectural wealth related to the Orthodox Church. Russia’s monasteries, convents and cathedrals are sights that should not be missed by any self-respecting visitor. Honest, cross my heart!

Filed under: Russia - culture and people
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 11:19 am

Boy, Do Mosquitoes Suck!

August 8, 2008

This morning, when I opened my fridge there was a mosquito, chilling out. How they get into my apartment in the first place is beyond me. Mosquito screens on the windows, mosquito detector on the door, mosquito check-ups every hour and yet every night they have themselves a feast and I have itchy patches on my arse.
Still I don’t suffer half as much as does my wife.
Which brings me to the point: I am Russian, she is English, we sleep next to each other, mosquitoes mostly bite her and I get a raincheck.

Do Russian mosquitoes prefer foreign blood over domestic? After all many Russian consumers have passion for foreign brands. Maybe Russian mosquitoes are communists? Many supporters of the old times are still about, you see them now and then gathering around statues of the forefather of Russia’s communist revolution.

Of course, when it comes to Lenin, nothing can beat the Mausoleum. When Solzhenitsin died I was half expecting headlines like “Body of celebrated dissident is set to replace Lenin in Red Square” and such. After all, many streets have gone back to their pre-revolutionary names and the imperial eagle has replaced the hammer and sickle.
However, speculative name changing and the replacement of a relic are not even in the same league, so I guess the swap is never going to stick. And rightfully so. The communist past is an important part of Russian history and a fascinating one at that.
The revolution, the Stalin years and the grim conflict of the Second World War all have inspired many talented architects and sculptors and left behind many landmarks.
When in town, check out Victory Monument on Ploshchad Pobedy. It’s dedicated to the victims of Leningrad’s Siege and the heroic defenders of the city. Sculptures of soldiers, partisans, sailors and workers surround a 48-m high obelisk. There is an underpass leading to the Memorial Hall. Solemn music, subdued lightning and the persistent beat of a metronome create an atmosphere to compliment a display of artifacts that records the war effort of Russian people.

Of all crimes against humanity war has to be the most serious one. Do people like George Bush realize that once they give their troops the go-ahead many sections of the community that are not supposed to be involved in the action will suffer a knock-on effect? These people are not soldiers, they did not sign-up and dying is not part of their job description.

The Siege of Leningrad lasted 900 days and lead to death of 2 million people, half of them civilians. Ost-West Kontaktservice offers an excellent guided tour designed to introduce you to the Museum of the Siege,”Piskarevskoe” Memorial Cemetery and “The Flower of Life” - a particularly disturbing monument as it commemorates the city’s many children who lost their lives during this tragic event.

Filed under: Sightseeing in St. Petersburg
Tags: , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 5:23 pm

Picking Off Pet Pooches

August 6, 2008

As I was coming out of the off-licence at about ten in the evening a group of dogs passed me and disappeared into the courtyard. I swear one of them sized me up but decided against whatever intentions it had on its mind. The incident left me wondering how long is it going to be before the boundary installed through the years of master/pet relationships will be forgotten and finally crossed.

Tehran had a similar problem in the late 70s. Stray dogs were roaming the streets forming violent packs. At nighttime it was not advised to walk on your own, particularly if you were a small child and could be easily carried off.

Saying all this, I somehow doubt that in Russia they might fail to deal with such a problem in the most efficient way. Likely there wont be any lack of wanna-be hunters willing to come out with their unlicensed rifles to shoot bad dogs and save the world.

In fact I wish they would start now by shooting dog-owners who don’t clean their pet’s mess. This is an outrage. Please, put your hand up if you never stepped into a pile of a dog poo on the pavement. Then you either did not live here long enough or you are a newborn baby and you don’t count.

However filthy the streets of St. Petersburg may be, they are still well worth walking, as many of them are historical sights themselves. A glance at a map reveals that a good attempt was made to bestow the city with an organized layout practically made for easily negotiable walks. In some areas around the centre everything is so close together that getting around on foot is the most rewarding way to explore and appreciate many fascinating architectural and sculptural details.

Citizens of St. Petersburg are fond of walking. On a fine day people of all ages are promenading up and down Nevskiy Prospekt or emerge into the parks and gardens. The Summer Gardens and Mikhaylovskiy Gardens offer excellent recreational opportunities as well as a superb scenery.

If you are looking for a romantic time try Palace Embankment at 2 a.m. during the White Nights. A stroll along the Moika or Griboedov Canal will take you away from the busy traffic of Nevskiy Prospekt and introduce you to some lovely residential areas of the city centre.
Excellent St. Petersburg walking tours in English, German and other languages are bookable anytime through Ost-West Kontaktservice. But please do note: during the high season (between May and September) this ever so popular service best be arranged well in advance.

Filed under: Sightseeing in St. Petersburg
Tags: , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 4:17 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