Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't Cry for Me, America

While living in a different country, I have learned that it is the little victories that make being here worthwhile. When someone approaches you on the street and asks you for you directions and you accurately tell them where to go in Russian, or maybe when you receive your food at a restaurant and notice that you got exactly what you asked for; these are some small victories. I recently achieved one of these small victories: I know the cause of global warming. Yesterday, I came to the conclusion that Russia, in an act of defiance over the U.S. supporting Georgia, is stealing all of the world's cold weather and concentrating it in St. Petersburg. Obviously, president turned environmental activist Al Gore has never visited Russia. If so, he would have realized that global warming would be all too convenient.

In all seriousness, it is getting cold here. The weather maxes out in the high 40s, and the sky has already abandoned the prospect of sunshine, favoring a dull gray that fits the cityscape all too suitably. Thankfully, the Russians have fought their unfortunate climate by making their buildings stand out. For example, the building below is my school's campus. I study in one of the complex's buildings that is located about thirty yards behind Smolny Cathedral. It is no Paris-Yates, but it definitely brightens your day while walking to school.

Though the weather has been a bit of a downer, it has picked up into the 60s this week, which veritably changes the way I view life. Today, after class, a couple of my classmates and I went walking through a park near the school, and we quickly found ourselves laying on the grass with all of our outerwear off ("sun's out; gun's out" rule applied). St. Petersburg can carry a very stilted demeanor when mixed with cold weather. The wind bites and so does the city. This immediately changes with the weather, though. Today, as we were in the park, not only did the city seem more inviting, but the people also did. People on the street occasionally break into a smile, a luxury in Russia reserved for private company only.

I am actually writing this while sitting outside of "The Other Side," one of the city's ex-pat bars and my favorite haunt. Not only do they have free wi-fi (a rare find in this city) but they also have CHIPS AND SALSA...CHIPS AND SALSA. It can't be reiterated enough, because this has become a very important comfort food for me. So, while in St. Petersburg, I can facebook all of my people in Oxford, hear people speak English, and eat chips and salsa, all while listening to music exclusively from the United States (everything from one of the songs from "Jungle Book" to Feist to "We Didn't Start the Fire").

I'll post more later (more expedient than last time) because the dinner crowd is rolling in and I know my kazyaika is waiting on me.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I'll expand on this later, but for now:

1. My flight was delayed in Houston, so I missed my flight in London, waited at Heathrow and was rerouted to Helsinki...Finland. Awesome.

2. Missed the CIEE bus and ended up having to take a $200 cab ride into the middle of nowhere with a driver who spoke no English, and didn't really care for my broken Russian. We ended up getting absurdly lost in the countryside around St. Petersburg and I ended up finally finding our destination at 1:00 a.m., after a 2 hour ride.

3. The Militsia (Russian Police Force) does spot checks of people they think are terrorists. These spot checks employ racial profiling, and end up being little more than the police trying to take a "fine" from you that goes straight to their pockets. One of my administrators and my kazyaika (house mother) has told me that I look Georgian and will be routinely spot checked. The protocol for if this happens (seriously): speak only in English, point to my phone, and repeatedly say "U.S. CONSULATE."

4. Despite all of this, St. Petersburg is amazing, my language skill have dramatically improved, my house mother is terrific, and I am loving being abroad.

In the next two or three days, I should have a legit post up, but I am busy right now and just got access to the internet.