Monday, November 23, 2009

"Bus Comes, Bus Goes"

The bus stop in front of my school is the worst one in the entire city of St. Petersburg. Not only is it completely exposed to the elements with no covering, but it's situated almost directly on the Gulf of Finland which is famous for it's cold, cold Arctic winds.

But this is the coup de grace: it is smack dab in front of Porsche dealership. So, every day as I wait for the Number 1 bus that is legendary for its infrequency in howling wind and rain/snow/sleet, I curse Porsche for its lack of sensitivity.

Sunrise, Sunset, Swiftly Go the Days

Nov. 23rd
Sunrise- 9:15 AM Sunset-4:14 PM
It doesn't get fully light until about 10 AM and it starts getting dark around 3:30 PM. And it's only going to get worse...

Another reason why it's so dark: the weather. The sun has only been visible once in the last four weeks. You might think I am exaggerating. I am not.

All this darkness has different effects on people. A friend of mine theorizes that Russian are only normal for about 4 weeks out of the year: two weeks in spring with 12 hour days and two weeks in fall with 12 hour days. The rest of the time... well, it gets ugly. So far, I've noticed the darkness makes me hungry and sleepy. I think humans that live this far north (roughly the same latitude as Juneau; a little farther north actually) should be allowed to hibernate. I take two naps a day: once on the bus going to work and once on the bus coming back from work (it's dark outside during both). Napping on public transport is fairly common activity here. My first year I wasn't confident enough to do it here. I was afraid someone would try to pickpocket me, that I would be impolite, or that I would miss my stop. Basically, I don't carry anything around worth stealing, so being pickpocketed isn't a problem. I usually find a spot in a corner so I don't block anybody in, so I'm not being impolite. I used to worried about missing my stop, but now that I've travelled this route so often, I can, quite literally, make the trip in my sleep.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I learned a new word the other day: "gopnik." Basically, it's a type of belligerent Russian white trash. You can look it up here for more details. I've seen these guys everywhere, but I didn't know there was an actual word for them; I've just been calling them "muzhiki" ("peasants").

So, last week I was going to dinner with my buddy Max when we walked past a group of gopniki (plural; of course, guys like this always travel in packs) on a corner. I wasn't even conscious of noticing them, but now I realize that somewhere in the back of my mind I had taken note of them. Max and I walked past them on the corner and had to orient ourselves, so we looked around and realized we had to go back the other way, past this group of guys. As we started moving in their direction, they started moving in our direction. Again, I had no conscious thought that anything was out of the ordinary, but my sub-conscious Russian threat monitor did.

One of these hooligans decided he didn't much care for my face and resolved to put his cigarette out in it. I dodged out of the way and he only succeeded in melting a piece of my jacket on the shoulder, and, once again, I didn't process any of this. It all occurred at the sub-conscious Russian threat monitor/ evasive action station part of my brain. So, I walked a couple of steps before the rest of my brain caught up and I realized that someone just (drunkenly) tried to cause me some serious harm. I turned around to give him my best hard-man stare and maybe shout a little bit at him... and I saw a group of drunk Russian neanderthals much, much bigger and tougher than me (and much, much, much bigger and tougher than Max). Discretion being the better part of valor, I continued walking and Max hurried to catch up. It ruined Max's night, but, oddly enough, not mine. I happened to be in a particularly good mood about Russia and St. Petersburg that night, and these knuckle-draggers weren't going to spoil it. "Greater things are still to be done in this city."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Veliky Novgorod

I went on one of the field trips for our 9th and 10th graders last Friday. We went to Novgorod, the cradle of Russian civilization. The trip was made down the main St. Petersburg-Moscow highway, the M10. The road conditions in Russia are a source of constant misery/humor. This highway is probably one of the most well-kept, but we were traveling in heavy snow fall with 2-3 inches of slush already on the ground. The interesting thing about this highway is that it is 3 lanes: 1 lane for those going to Moscow, 1 lane for those going to St. Petersburg, 1 lane for those going to eternity. The middle lane is for passing, but, as far as I can gather, there's no real rule on who yields. Basically, if you think you got it, you go for it. Our driver went for it; he seemed intent on setting a new land record. The other teacher on the trip (who was becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of time spent in the middle lane) leaned up front and reminded the driver that we had plenty of time. The driver nodded and put the minibus into gears I didn't even know it had and plowed through the snow, zooming past the more timid drivers.

We arrived in Novgorod with plenty of time and toured the ancient marketplace and saw a statue to the most famous resident of Novgorod, Sadko. We then headed over to the other side of the river to the Novgorod kremlin. Novgorod is famous for 2 things in Russian history: it crowned the first king of the Rus in the 9th century and for the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom, the oldest surviving church in Russia (and oldest building in Russia still in use).

We then went out to a wooden village open air museum. Open air means cold. During the Communist period, several peasant log cabins and wooden churches were moved to this site. The wooden church pictured above is from the 17th century with the top half being almost completely original. It's pretty impressive.

Due to the snow plows out on the road, the ride back to St. Petersburg wasn't as exciting.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


You can find my response to the previous post here.

Akhmatova Again

Give me bitter years in malady,
Breathlessness, sleeplessness, fever.
Both a friend and a child and the mysterious
Gift take away forever-
Thus I pray after Your liturgy
After many exhausting days,
That the cloud over dark Russia
Become the cloud in the glory of rays.
-"Prayer," Anna Akhmatova

As I wrote in an earlier post, I've been struggling with a question lately: is there any hope for Russia or not? Some days I think that these people are cracked; they have destroyed what little goodness there was in their society a long time ago. Other days, I wonder... I was talking about this with a colleague of mine and he said that without Christ there really is no hope for this country. At the time I thought, of course he'd say that; he has to say that. That's the usual "Sunday school" type answer, but then I started thinking about it. The more I thought about it, the more profound it became. If anything is going to change here (and believe me, there are many things that need to be changed), it will not take root unless it is rooted in the Light. Do I have faith that Russia will take up its mat and walk? I certainly hope I do, but do I long for that day when the dark clouds over Russia turn to brilliant rays of sunshine?

Today, I read this poem by Akhmatova. It's a devastating poem. This was a woman who ached for Russia to be in the Light, who prayed fervently for it. She writes that she would be willing to suffer for years for this. She would suffocate for Russia to walk in the Light. She would never sleep again for Russia to walk in the Light. She would give herself, her child, and her friendships for Russia to walk in the Light. She saw the darkness in Russia: two of her husbands were killed by the Communists, another died of TB (which is still a concern here), she watched as her son was sent to Siberia. She saw the darkness in Russia but still prayed for "the glory of rays."

Can I say this prayer?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sennaya Ploshchad

Sennaya Ploschad (Hay Square aka the Hay Market). You can read about it here. It's still a pretty bustling place, with all sorts of little kiosks, tables, and shops. Anyway, the other day I was walking through it and I happened to be walking past a record shop that was blasting "Rock Around the Clock." Here I am walking through Dostoevsky's St. Petersburg with Bill Haley and the Comets providing the soundtrack.