San José

I ended up in Costa Rica after meeting a Costa Rican guy on a course I attended in Fribourg Switzerland last year. The conversation pretty much went “you should come to Costa Rica”; “okay, that seems like a good idea”; and here we are.

Anyway, the guy in question is called Guillermo, and he lives in San José. The Dutchie and I had floated the idea of leaving a bunch of our stuff with him prior to heading down the Carribbean coast, and so we planned to catch up with him in San José in the evening. As it turns out, it was a holiday in San José and he had the day off work, so I wanted to head down earlier; also as it turns out, Anouk lost her phone, so there was no point in her sticking around in La Fortuna to make her WhatsApp date.  As such, we had our clothes laundered (sorely, *sorely* needed), then caught the bus out of La Fortuna for San José at 12:45.

I’m ahead of myself, though: I haven’t actually spoken about La Fortuna as a town.  I liked it, it had a good feeling to it, and lots of cute little nooks and things to explore. It was definitely a bit of a tourist town, but not in the same was as Tamarindo was: for one, where Tamarindo was an American enclave, La Fortuna was more European (many Dutchies and Germans); for two, La Fortuna was less trashy, and generally had way more chill.

In the morning before catching our coach (no apologies for the non-chromonological order of this post), we went for breakfast at a reggae bar called something along the lines of ‘Lava Lounge’, which fundraised to take care of stray local dogs.  We had some delicious huevos rancheros–and the waiter, Max, was hilarious.  At no apparent prompt, he tapped me on one shoulder while walking off in the other direction, and I started giggling hysterically.  It was so ridiculously unexpected.

Leapfrogging ahead in time once more, our bus to San José took quite a while–some 4.5-5 hours–though glady I managed to get some sleep for around an hour of that.  Upon arrival, we found a really nice hostel: Van Gogh hostel, near Terminal Mepe.  It was clean, spacious, quiet, and the owner was a lovely guy.  We’re going back there this upcoming Sunday.

Our next movement was to try and find somewhere to buy the Dutchie a new phone, because she is a legit addict.  The hostel owner suggested we catch an Uber to Walmart, which we did.  We then failed at finding anything at all we were looking for: Anouk found a phone she liked, but neither that store nor any other had the actual item for sale.  Then we couldn’t find an appropriate daypack for the Dutchie either, and we couldn’t find a needle and thread for me (as my pack has lost a strap).  Also, our blood sugar was getting pretty low, so things were getting somewhat silly.

At this point Guillermo came to our rescue, picking us up, and taking us to an Irish pub for dinner. We then went to a cool little bar, Casa, where I had some delicious sangria.  Anouk was also in heaven, as both the Irish pub (the Craic) and Casa had huge beer lists.  There really seems to be a cool craft beer/indie-type bar scene going on in San José.

Today, the phone/pack mission continued.  We headed to a nearby mall, failing to find a new phone for Anouk or a needle for me.  We did get some thread, though, so that was halfway there.  We also stopped by a bookstore, so that I could get some more books with which to practice my Spanish reading comprehension :).  The Dutchie, meanwhile, found herself a travel neck-pillow, which folds up to be a soft toy elephant.

I asked lots of people in the mall, and eventually someone suggested that we go to the central market in town to get a needle.  We were starting to run a little short of time, so caught a taxi, and not only found a needle almost immediately, but had time to continue the phone mission!  A lady who assisted with my Costa Rican phone number recharge gave us a place to head towards, and we started ducking into each and every phone store on the way, finding the phone the Dutchei wanted, and comparing prices.  And finally, success!!

San José I think has a bit of a bad rep.  It’s not really tauted as a travel destination, but our feeling is that you have to dig below the surface a little.   Yes, it’s gritty–my ‘danger danger!’ signals were going off in the areas around the bus stop, for example–but there’s a lot of life around, and a lot to discover.

We also saw reflected what the Tico from our ex-Tamarindo bus had been talking about, with many immigrants and a lot of economic disparity.  This is something our hostel guy expounded upon at breakfast time, too.  He’s an interesting guy who has travelled a lot and lived in quite a few places, and he sees the same trends occurring in Costa Rica as in the seemingly rest of the world at the moment.  He said that there were huge issues with refugees and irrendentism, pointing at Nicaragua taking land from Colombia, for example, and making a play at Guanacaste in the north of Costa Rica (where Liberia is located).  There’s a wall that has gone up between Costa Rica and Nicaragua to assist with issues, and he said that there are similarly hot borders across Central and South America, narcotrafficking, money laundering (he said this was 90% of Panama’s national income, for example), and deeply antagonistic relationships.  Coutnries such as Costa Rica and Colombia are pointed at as debauched capitalist societies, against the interests of countries such as Nicaragua (which, as you can tell, came up a lot).  There’s a lot of xenophobic scape-goating taking place in Costa Rica and Nicaragua alike, and these sentiments are mobilised by politicians and media for instrumental purposes.  The Costa Rican middle class has its taxes raised to pay for the poor, while the rich get richer. Diatribes in the region take an economic left/right slant rather than the more conservative/liberal slant you see in left/right arguments in Europe, for example: but the issues are the same.  Our poor hostelier couldn’t see any future that wasn’t bleak, that didn’t result in war in the next 15 years, in the region or more generally: with lack of education, inequality, corruption, exploitation, and mobilised xenophobia, he sees it as a powder keg.

The Dutchie and I are now on a bus to Puerto Viejo, on the south-eastern coastline of Costa Rica.  We’ve ditched a lot of our stuff at our San José hostel, partly beacuse there’s been a rise in dangerous drug trafficking-type people in the area, and partly because why would be schlepp it around?!  We actually only managed to get one seated ticket for this bus, so we’re together in the baggage/disabled area, which I honestly don’t mind.  We have WAY more room than in the seats,a can get up and stretch etc, and I can whip out my keyboard and type out our adventures of the past few days.  3.25 hours down; one or two to go.

It was not air conditioned.

Integration

The other night I was waiting for the bus home from Russian class.  There were two others waiting with me, both brought up in Belgium, and one was going on an anti-immigrant rant.  I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the ‘migrant crisis’ that is currently underway, so I won’t go into too much detail.  Suffice it to say that this girl does not like immigrants, and she does not want them in the country.

I waited until she paused, and then interrupted—”You realise I’m an immigrant, right?”

She paused and looked at me for a second.  “Yes, but you’re white.”

 

 

Wow, right?  She then went on with some standard white supremacy type theories, saying how all the ‘white’ countries are developed and all the others are behind because of some kind of genetic deficiency.  Eugh.

The thing is, while this girl’s obviously at the ‘psycho’ end of racism, being anti-immigration is not an uncommon sentiment here, whether ‘here’ be Brussels, Belgium, Western Europe, the EU…  There was some post on /r/europe the other night saying how there are so many immigrants here in Brussels that they “consider the city lost”.  (I tried to find the post, and ended up spending 40 minutes on reddit… dammit.)  Anti-immigrant sentiment is running very high.

But the thing is, people never apply that to me.  Europeans keep asking me if I’m staying after my course, to which I always reply that there’s the minor issue of a visa.  “Just marry a European,” they say.  Seriously, I don’t even know how many hundreds of times I must have heard that by now.  They tell me how I’m the kind of immigrant they want, and are often surprised that things like visas and immigration controls are something that I’d be subject to.  I’ve never had any kind of anti-immigrant sentiment used against me; on the contrary, people want me to stay.  I did a model UN of the European Council a few months ago, and people kept saying how I’m exactly the kind of person they want working for Europe, to the point where a couple were near-outraged that I can’t actually work for the EU institutions, NATO, etc etc.  Because what country you’re arbitrarily born in is apparently important.

In saying that, it’s definitely not purely based on skin colour/appearance that most people seem to be objecting to the current migration wave.  A lot of people focus on different cultures, on foreign fighters, on lack of integration, on the drain on the social system.  On whether the people are flooding in are entitled to be here as ‘asylum seekers’, or whether they’re just ‘economic migrants’ (because dying by violence is somehow superior to dying through malnutrition or disease because you’re unable to provide for your family).

I really, really, really don’t want to get deep into the politics of it, but to me this is kind of like global warming.  We’ve known for decades that things are heating up and that we are going to have serious problems in upcoming years, but we all keep sitting on our hands or doing the bare minimum.  One day there is going to be disaster, whether that’s from a human perspective in terms of food sources/flooding/desertification, or from an economic perspective in terms of the costs of adaptation/recovery/innovation.  We can see it coming but are focused on short-term goals, on sound-bites and current dramas, rather than on prevention.  Rather than go for ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, we’re opting for ‘better to beg forgiveness than ask permission’—we wait for a problem to become so overwhelming that it overflows, then cope and bitch about it as if we couldn’t see it coming the whole time.

Same deal here.  We’ve known about ISIS, we’ve known about Syria, we’ve known about illegal immigrants and population explosions and malnutrition and disease.  Considering just the first for a minute, there’s been international inaction, with eg the UN (as per climate change) unable to undertake anything collectively.  Within the Security Council itself there’s been mass division, with Russia for example supporting Assad, and the US against him.  The country has been falling apart and we’ve known this whole time.  What else were refugees going to do?  The MENA region (Middle East + North Africa) is already chock-full, and the EU’s member states are signatory to the UN’s conventions on asylum seekers.  I don’t know about you, but if I had nowhere else to go, I’d probably give it a crack, too.  This is all perfectly foreseeable, but no action was taken—it should hardly come as a surprise that a wave of people is now reaching us.  Say all you want about Merkel, but how exactly—with inadequate border security, no EU police force, a lack of proper facilities etc—was anybody going to stop people coming, especially when many of them have a right to do so under international law.  Am I saying that everybody coming into Europe is an asylum seeker?  No.  And definitely, I’ve read the reports of inter-cultural violence in camps, of unhappy refugees (and people are going to die in the cold this winter, that’s a thing that’s going to happen), of people reaching Finland then turning back because it’s cold and boring.  But we know there’s a war on in Syria, and we know that a lot of the people reaching us are, in fact, asylum seekers.

As far as asylum-seeking in relation to Syria goes, it looks like we’re reaching the ‘human/economic disaster’ part—but with some intervention (not necessarily military) or even some simple planning, we would not be in the polemic and underprepared shitstorm we’re currently in.

 

…this got off-track.  I was going to say how much I love Europe, but apparently a mini rant came out instead!  Anyway, I’ll be able to start writing again properly soon, I have a backlog of half-written posts to begin with.  All is well here in Brussels and I’m looking into doing my PhD next year.  Oh, and did I mention?  NEW BOOK OUT THIS MONTH 😀

No Dill

(13-Jul-15)

Well here I am, back in vertical Germany, and finally starting to catch up on my Russia posts.  Needless to say, they’re completely out of order—but what are you going to do about it?!

Staying with Naz reminded me of all the little details about life in Russia.  She and her Belorussian bf live in an old Soviet apartment, in the Primorskiy District—partly developed, but still quite old.  There’s this ubiquitous grime covering everything, as though you’re seeing the world through a faint coffee stain.  There are the little old ladies selling flowers, the stalls with baked goods at the start of the day, the fruits and vegetables being hawked, and people wearing loudspeakers which broadcast ads at you, while their wearers bear indifferent faces.

After walking past the crying sounds of a harmonica one day, we got on the marshrutka (bus) to head into town—only to be greeted with a mouth full of gold teeth.  Not that the driver was smiling.  I think his teeth were just uncomfortable, meaning his mouth had to be propped open.  He then took us on quite the adventure—I’ve never been on a bus which did a u-turn in the middle of the street before!

It’s always quite interesting to have Naz’s South African perspective to be honest.  She describes Russia, even the cities (themselves a world away from the rest of the country), as being like the undeveloped parts of South Africa, or akin to the more dilapidated and uncared-for cities.  We started talking about different countries’ equivalents of bogans, about the trashy clothes, the bad hair, the grab and run attitude that you can’t go a day without seeing in Russia.  Incidentally, at this point I think I have to establish some kind of bogan scale, because nobody ever knows what the hell I’m talking about.  Basically, ‘bogan’ is Australian for a non-violent, opinionated person of typically low education or socio-economic status.  But I’m an idiot and didn’t make this graph 3d in order to incorporate opinions:

On a very much related note, someone peed in the lift to Naz’s flat.  The only way into the building, and someone decided it would serve better as a urinal.  And not even once, but multiple times in the week!  Eventually someone cracked and wrote “НЕ ПИСАЙТЕ В ЛИФТЕ!”, “don’t piss in the lift!”.  The next day, someone had rubbed out the не/don’t.  Next step in the battle was someone rewriting in the не, and also adding the same text in bright red on the other wall of the lift.  Who the fuck has a piss-battle over a lift?!

Anyhoo.  One of the few inconveniences associated with living in Russia is the fact that the water gets turned off in summer.  Usually just the hot water, though it could go either way.  And we’re not talking about an especially balmy country here—there are no palm fronds in sight.  Of course, the most inconvenient part is the fact that you’re not told when the water will be turned off, nor how long it will be turned off for.  Usually it’s a few weeks to just over a month, but it could really be any time.  And we don’t understand why—it’s not like other far-northern countries do this, though the Russian explanation seems to be something to do with checking the pipes.  How and what and why?!  Either way, it led to our  spending a couple of hours each day heating pots of water on the (ineffective) stove, then sploshing around in the bath scooping water over ourselves.

On one occasion Naz and I decided to go in search of a hairdresser, because washing your hair takes a fair bit of water, and doing it with freezing cold water isn’t that much fun.  After rather a number of hairdressers, we eventually found one that would wash our hair for under 1000 rubles (total rip-off), and who would let us go into the street with wet hair (though they thought we were crazy).  They were lovely, though Naz’s hairdresser was apparently pretty fond of booze, and smelled it.  Professionalism ftw!

I’m going to skip talking about dill and my hatred of it for the nth time, because it can really be summarised with (a) I hate dill (b) I always request ‘no dill’ (c) food always arrives with goddamn dill.  DILL IS DISGUSTING.

As mentioned in my post ‘Вернуться‘, I bumped into one of the managers of the brilliant Eclectic Translations in a book-store in Piter.  Eclectic is the company that did the English subtitles for Leviathan, the Yolki films, and a bazillion more—they’re brilliant.  Anyway I went to ‘Trannie’ (Translator) Tuesdays at their in-house bar a couple of times while in St Petersburg and had a fairly brilliant time drinking far too much wine.  The first time I went, I got rather unplannedly tipsy, and pretty much announced as much when walking in the door at Naz’s apartment.  She’d been expecting me, so had had water heating up on the stove for my bath.  I therefore found myself, post-vodka, sitting in an old rusty Soviet bath, washing myself in an inch or so of water, and happy as Larry.  Really all I needed was a rubber duck to complete the scene.  Naz then proceeded to take the piss out of everything, to my hysterical reaction.  My favourite line was “Fuck Zurich; I’ve never been to Switzerland, but I don’t think I like it.  Zurich poo-rich”.  Yup; much maturity was had.

I did learn one thing of particular interest, in relation to Russian border security.  One of Naz’s friends was due to come in on a cruise ship, and generally customers on a cruise apparently don’t need visas, as they are under the ‘captain’s cloak’ (ie the captain’s authority).  Not for Russia, though.  Recently the country decided to withdraw that privilege, in a fairly unprecedented (from what I gather) fashion.  So now there was a big ship full of people stuck in port.  However, in Russia there’s always a way, always a rule to be broken, always a way around.  In this case, passengers were told that as long as they booked a particular tour with a particular company (at an exorbitant price, no less), they could enter St Petersburg.  You couldn’t pay directly, though—you had to pay in euro, to a bank account in Norway.  Not sketchy.  Not sketchy at all.  (Russia never is.)

http://images.sodahead.com/polls/000691117/polls_usherheart_3947_468316_poll_xlarge.jpeg

Breakaway

I have just spent two hours listening to a man spouting some of the most hateful bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life, without being permitted to say anything or give an opinion in return.  He was good-looking and I’m an idiot, which is how I ended up sitting down.  Forgive me.

This man is from South Ossetia (ie the breakaway region of Georgia), pro-Putin, an avid hater of gays, convinced that Jews are running the world and playing politics as if it’s a game of chess, and fairly distinctly anti-Arab Muslim.  I don’t even know where to start.  I’m actually overwhelmed.  ‘Flabbergasted’ would be the appropriate word, if it wasn’t so ridiculous-sounding.  It probably goes without saying, but none of the below reflects my opinions in any way.

I guess I’d better start with gays.  He told me all about how:

  • Being gay is a choice.
  • Nobody in Russia gives a fuck because it’s sick and barbaric, and these people are monkeys who ‘care more about someone fucking their asshole’ than about their parents, heritage, brains or future.
  • Girls can choose either way at any time, but when a guy chooses to become gay, there’s no going back. He’s doomed.
  • A lot of guys in Russia choose to be gay to make good money. Because you see, if someone is good-looking but has no brain, their best option is to become a prostitute.  And these stupid, good-looking young men want money, so rather than do the ‘right’ thing, fulfil their ‘main role’ in life, they instead choose to fuck fat old guys in exchange for cash.  Because iPhones and travel.
  • Nobody in Russia would want their child to be gay. Gay isn’t normal, and the ‘gay movement’ is ruining Europe and the West and causing massive demographic problems.  That’s right, low Western birth-rates aren’t due to high levels of education or the availability of family planning, but to people choosing to be gay.

On women:

  • Russia’s main export is women, because they are top quality. The stupid ones become prostitutes, and the other ones wives all over the world.  This is because, despite the drinking and drugs in Russia, they just have good genes.

On life and love:

  • People’s main jobs are not to kill anyone, and to have a family. A guy is supposed to meet a girl, be in love for a year and long enough to have a kid, then can move on or whatever.  Love never lasts longer than 2-3 years, because that’s all that’s necessary to have a child.  Then if the parents stay together, the feeling mutates into something else.
  • Incidentally, I told him that I’m not having kids and I’m pretty sure that makes me a deficient monster in his eyes.

Children and heritage:

  • We don’t own ourselves, we are owned by our forefathers. Because, you see, they expended the effort in having sex and then protecting their lands, so that we could be here.  So that I could be here and ‘not look Chinese’.  They gave us genetic material and their knowledge so that we could be here, so we are theirs—and as such, being gay or not having children are not choices that are permitted to us.  It is our job.
  • Incidentally, apparently all of our forefathers were laughing at the ridiculousness of gay people, they were a joke. Because that’s historically documented (this was the point at which I just couldn’t take any more, and yet again he wouldn’t let me speak, so I left.  We will be having no further conversation, one-sided or otherwise).

On politics in general:

  • The US starts a lot of conflicts throughout the world, and ‘Cold War #2’ was caused by the Russian refusal to be dependent on the Federal Reserve.
  • Europe is the US’ bitch. So is everywhere else, for that matter.
  • Putin is awesome, 95% of the country agrees, and everybody else is a self-serving criminal.

On Jews and Muslims:

  • Jews are way smarter than everybody else, and it’s them in the top positions in Russia and the US and the world in general. Thus it’s them in charge of the world, it’s all one group of people having petty spats which appear to be political conflicts.  Instead it’s all a game of chess played from within the same ‘family’.
  • The Quran asks that people have as many children as they can, and Allah will protect said children. Meanwhile Jews only have as many children as they can afford.  So while Muslim children are raised at home by ‘monkey’ uneducated women, Jewish children are ‘high quality people’.  Europe should be concerned about all of these Muslim killers immigrating as they escape from US-started wars in the Middle East.
  • Muslim (?) men like to fuck sheep in the street in the name of their religion.  (Yes, that’s an actual example he gave.)

Interestingly, at one point he said that ‘you Europeans’ think we have some kind of moral or inherent superiority, but that’s not the case.  Later on he said that those who were going to be barbarians like gays or what-have-you aren’t good enough to be in Russia, and can try their luck elsewhere.

I can’t believe I made it to 5 weeks back in this country before hearing this shit again.  I guess it’s because I avoided speaking to Russian men.  I feel sick.

Вернуться

So far I’ve spent my time back in Russia drinking coffee, hanging out with hot men, and having jobs thrown at me.  And yes, I am having a much, much better time than last time!  I don’t know whether the weather has made everything more pleasant, whether people are being nicer thanks to the sunshine and political developments, or whether it’s because I’m not working for ‘that’ company.  Either way, things so far have been great, and I can definitely imagine myself playing between Brussels and Russia in future.

I have however spent a disproportionate amount of my time thus far working.  Pretty much every day since my arrival—on which I spent nearly 15 hours in a café working—has involved going to a different branch of the wildly overpriced Coffeeshop Company, sitting down, abusing the wi-fi, and working my butt off.  My efforts have mainly been directed at some copy-editing work I’ve got going on, and on sorting through and responding to the huge number of submissions we’ve received for the Terry Pratchett/Alzheimer’s anthology.  Thankfully, submissions are now closed, so the actual reading-responding part should settle down shortly.

Anyway, despite my constant work-i-ness, I have had a couple of quintessentially Russian experiences.  Including a toilet bus, but I’m going to avoid talking about that particularly awkward and public experience.  I’ve been staying with Naz and Mikita in Primorskaya, kind of near one of the schools I used to work at.  (Side note—I definitely would have commented about how badly it was managed at some point, and it’s since closed down.  Quel surprise!)  So far that’s been pretty groovy, though actually, it’s rare that any of us are there at the same time.  On the upside, this means that there’s no-one around to watch me talk to the degus for protracted periods of time.  Yes, degus.  No, I’m not making up words.  They’re a Chilean rodent (in Russia, naturally) sort of between a mouse and a possum.  Or a quoll.  I don’t know, but they’re adorable, and there’s nine of them here for me to bribe with contraband flower petals and talk to in an uncontrollably high pitch.

I’ve also popped by Naz’s work a couple of times—once I was roped in as a guest Australian teacher, and once I somehow ended up doing some of her marking—very smooth.  And, as mentioned, I’ve had a few job offers (four attempted poachings so far!).  This is the time of year at which a lot of native speakers leave anyway, but it’s particularly bad at the moment.  I heard a while back that the Americans especially were leaving with the exchange rate, as they couldn’t afford to pay off their student loans.  But I mean this is a city (and/or country) which struggles to recruit and retain native speakers anyway.

On the topic of English, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a lot more of it around than there was two years ago.  There’s definitely more in terms of signage etc than in Moscow, but also spoken English is more noticeable, especially in the service industries.  I don’t know whether it’s because more people who were studying it at school have now graduated or what, but it would definitely be easier for a tourist now.  And, if anything, English seems to be more popular now—one guy came and sat with me in a café the other day, and man did he want to speak English.  He knew about five words, so it was a bit of a challenge for him, but there you have it.

On the topic of English people, I was grabbing some lunch the other day when I overheard some Northerners trying to figure out their map.  I asked if they needed any help, and as it turns out, they were only in St Petersburg for one day and wanted to know what to see.  One day.  And by this time it was nearing 5pm, and all they’d done is go on a bus and see the Hermitage.  Hm :/.  But that’s beside the point.  More interesting was when they asked what people were celebrating.  As it turns out, it was the city day, celebrating the foundation of St Petersburg.  I hadn’t seen the celebrations though, so thought they were talking about the Victory Day signs that were still about the place.  The lady knew about the Siege of Leningrad, but as it turns out, that’s pretty much it.  When I mentioned the 70 year anniversary (of the end of the Second World War), they asked “but why are they celebrating that?  Why aren’t they celebrating their own history?!”.  Ffs.  I told them that actually, there were 27 million Soviet casualties during WW2.  I explained that WW2 is taught as a Russian victory here (I’m staying well out of that one), and they were just shocked at the notion.  Because as I’ve mentioned before, that’s America’s war—right?!?

Speaking of thing which are and aren’t wars—sanctions.  (Yeah, loosest segue ever, sue me.)  When I was the guest Australian in Naz’s class, I was asked about whether people really eat kangaroo.  I said that yes, and that Russia is—was—one of the biggest export markets for it, if not the biggest.  Everybody’s face pretty much showed an accepting chagrin, if there can be such a thing.  Lack of kangaroo imports is hardly the biggest deal!

Apparently one of the first things to disappear was blue cheese.  Other things which disappeared really quickly were Ikea goods (apparently there are just heaps of bare shelves), electrical homeware such as stoves and fridges, and electronics.  People just started going to the stores and buying all of this stuff which they couldn’t afford, and perhaps didn’t really need.  They were anticipating price hikes—which have since happened, and it’s surely nothing to do with massive demand.  But why?  Just, why??!

More visible are things such as the price of imported foods and drinks.  A bottle of cider is far more expensive than a bottle of vodka (~300 rubles versus about 200 for a ‘normal’ bottle), and fruits and vegetables are crazy.  Naz has told me that tomatoes are more expensive than meat, and in making dinner the other night, two small zucchinis cost me just under 200 rubles (so around AUD$5/US$4).  Yup, living like a rich lady, obviously.

Happily however, books are still cheap.  As such, I’ve been gathering a little collection for myself, mainly focused on improving my (now awful) Russian.  I went to my favourite place, Dom Knigi (Дом Книги / house of books) and picked up some graded readers (and a book about pirates haha), then a couple of days ago trekked to the State Uni’s bookstore.  Now, this bookstore isn’t exactly in-your-face.  I only know about it because I had to go and pick up a textbook or two for my course when I was studying here.  Basically, you go to one of the uni buildings, pass through the turnstiles, and it’s in this little nook down some stairs to your right.

Man I love that book store though.  I was there for quite some time, picking up some useful grammar and revision books, and some focused on politics and global issues, for fairly obvious reasons.  Anyway I finally headed to the counter with my stash, and there was a tall bearded guy standing there.  He saw me buying ‘Russian for foreigners’ books, and so spoke to me in English.  He commented about the hecticness of learning Russian, and I replied that I was just revising and hoping to improve my level.  Then he started saying something else, at which point I rudely interrupted and said “I’m sorry, but don’t I know you?  Your face, I’m sure…”.  The guy and I stared at each other for about ten seconds as I tried to place him, then he goes “aren’t you Laura?”.  Yup.  He’s now grown a beard, but it was a guy from Eclectic Translations, who I’m sure I’ve mentioned before.  Wtf?  A city of nearly 5 million (legal) residents, and it took me three days to run into someone I know—and in an obscure place, no less.  Either way, he mentioned that they’re always on the lookout for freelance translators, and said to come to their Tuesday drinks.  So that’s happening!

What else?  Well, I had a traumatic frisbee experience on Saturday.  Yes, that’s right—traumatic.  Basically after my most excellent CouchSurfing-based adventure the other night, I thought I’d give it another go.  I could see an ‘ultimate frisbee’ event happening, so thought I’d check it out.  Ultimate frisbee is like a cross between frisbee and rugby, and we used to play it on the beach all the time when I worked in the UK.  It’s a damn good time, is what I’m saying.  Anyway the event ad read “If you’re looking for some exercise, fun lively chat or making new best friends – look no further.  We are friendly bunch and welcome everyone, no matter if you’ve never touched a frisbee before.”  AND IT WAS ALL LIES.

Now, I realise that I’m truly and catastrophically awful at conventional sports.  Throwing, catching, teamwork—things I am just not capable of.  Unless we’re talking ‘throwing myself at somebody’, ‘catching a cold’ (yeah, that could have gone other places), and teamwork in the sense of the workplace and/or baking.  But none of these latter even mildly relate to frisbee.

As it turns out, these people weren’t playing ‘ultimate frisbee’, they were just playing ‘frisbee to the ultimate’—it was a total dick-measuring contest in which there were myself, one other girl (briefly, before she was relegated to watching and taking photos), and four burly Russian guys.  And they were fucking serious about their frisbee.  They were all standing a long way away from each other—we were in a star shape, and the guys furthest from me were around 40 metres away.  There’s no way I can throw anything that far, and certainly not accurately.  So sometimes it stopped short of them, sometimes it careered off in random directions, and one time I threw it behind me (I did mention the ‘bad-at-throwing’, right?!).  Or there was the time when I fell over my own feet, tumbling to the ground, or didn’t catch the frisbee properly so it smashed into my face.  And that’s neglecting all of the times I just straight-up dropped it.  Yeah.  But whereas I guess normally people would laugh it off with me (because it’s a social, non-competitive game… right?), or give me some tips (as per the couple of times I played rugby with the guys from school), these guys looked at me with complete derision.  Honestly, it was awful.  I ended up so ashamed of myself that I just left—I lasted about 40-45 minutes then just couldn’t take it anymore.  “Friendly bunch” my ass!

While waiting for the frisbee guys that afternoon, I’d been taking a nap on the grass.  I’d walked from Naz’s workplace, via an open-air Viking festival at Peter and Paul’s Fortress, to the Field of Mars—and I was sleepy to boot.  The grass was too much to resist.  Anyhoo, as I was lying there I overheard a cacophony coming from the road.  I propped myself up, only to see an escort of flag-flying cars and a big Zenit tour bus full of shirtless guys.  Yup, Zenit—the SPB football team—was in town, and they wanted people to know about it.  The city, in turn, went a little bit nuts.

Post-frisbee I was waiting to catch a bus down to Mayakovskaya to meet Naz, when a car pulled up at the lights.  They started beeping, and I glanced up.  It was one of the freaking escort cars and they were staring at me.  I was extremely fucking confused.  I mean really.  The whole street was full of Russian women for goodness’ sake—but there was no doubt about it.  Haha differences between me and the other women on the street: (a) I don’t look Slavic, (b) I look healthier, (c) they’re crazy beautiful, (d) I was wearing hiking shorts and a t-shirt, whereas they were all in heels and looking like they’d stepped out of a catalogue.  So yeah, maybe these guys were tripping.  Or maybe they saw the dirt on me from where I’d fallen over, and assumed I spent a lot of time on my knees.  (Yes, yes I definitely snickered as I wrote that.)

2015-05-30 19.32.05Finally, because this is getting a bit out of control and I need to get to work.  Probably the two most ridiculous things I’ve seen so far happened in close proximity the other night: firstly, I saw a window painted with dolphins and an internet explorer logo (wtf and why?!), and secondly, there were a couple pushing their baby in a pram.  Oh, wait—that’s not what they were doing at all.  Their infant was in a remote control metal Jaguar-looking car, and the dad was driving him down the street.  Because Russia.