Ирония Судьбы Revisited

Arguably the most famous Russian film is Ironiya Sud’by, “The Irony of Fate”.  It’s tradition to watch it every New Year’s Eve—those who’ve been reading for a few years may recall that I watched it on NYE when I was living here.  It’s a very, very Russian story.  Basically, it’s set during Communist times, when everybody lived in the same type of flat, with the same type of furniture, on look-alike streets.  So this chap Zhenya Lukashin gets drunk at the banya with his buddies one night in Moscow, passes out, winds up on a plane thanks to some would-be helpful friends, and the next thing you know, he’s in Leningrad (St P).  He eventually wakes up in a state of confusion, and drunkenly catches a taxi, giving his home address.  That address also happens to exist in Leningrad, and the block of flats looks exactly the same, so wonders on in to ‘his’ home, where disasters abound.  It’s just the most Russian.

Anyway, one of my friends did something vaguely akin to this on Saturday night.  We had planned to go out, but instead he found himself inebriated and booking a train to St Petersburg.  By the time he realised (ie when I texted him asking when and where to meet him), it was too late—he was already well on his way.  But don’t you worry, I still arranged myself a thoroughly random Moscow night out.

I’m getting ahead of myself though, so quick recap—Saturday morning I took the free walking tour, as it had been a couple of years since I’d been to Moscow, and I wanted to reorient myself.  I then went for some food and a browse through a bookstore on Tverskaya, but wasn’t actually feeling very well, so went back to the hostel for some drugs and naps.  It was shortly after waking up that I discovered out that my friend Hoos had pulled a Zhenya.

Anyway, Hoos offered to get his friends to take me out, but they were… remarkably unresponsive (as it turned out, the guy in question’s phone battery ran out).  So I went for Japanese at Dve Palochki (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again—Japanese food in Russia is so good!!!) and considered my options.

Naturally, my first step was to turn to Reddit.  I posted to the Moscow sub, asking what I should do with my evening.  However, the sub didn’t seem that active, and I’d heard that Couchsurfing (CS) was pretty big in Moscow, so I decided to check it out.  I’d never actually used Couchsurfing before other than to advertise a room (when I was living in St P) and to give other people references.  Nonetheless I eventually figured my way around (phone in one hand, chop-sticks in the other), and saw some guy had posted on the Moscow group asking if anyone was keen for a night out.  Perfect!

This guy, who we’re going to call Jensen (partly because I didn’t ask permission to use his name, and partly because he looks remarkably like the actor Jensen Ackles—side note, I realised on the train to St P that I actually spent all weekend with incredibly good-looking and intelligent men), was a Finnish guy in town for work.  I sent him a message via CS with my Russian number, and heard from him pretty quickly.  Then—to adventures!

Jensen told me he’d meet me at the exit to Kitay Gorod metro station, which was near where I was staying.  He arrived and said that he was near a ‘coffee house’ and a church.  Now, for those who don’t know, these are probably the two most common things in Russia.  Also, as it turns out, there are about a zillion exits to K-G.  So I checked all of them.  Eventually I found him by the statue of Cyril and Methodius, the monks who decided the Cyrillic alphabet was a good idea (I agree), and he was a thoroughly normal human being—see?  Internet strangers aren’t so scary :p.

Anyway, this just so happened to have been the start of the walking tour, and so we went for a stroll, me recounting some of the tour highlights as we went.  We walked up to and through Red Square, stopping by the front of the history museum (my favourite night-time Moscow sight to date), and seeing some kind of amazing fairy-tale show projected onto Moscow Manege.  From there we walked for a few more blocks, finding ourselves on Arbat Street.  And we hadn’t found a bar yet (apparently we’re blind).

We went walking up Arbat, and eventually found an Irish pub.  So yes, an Australian and a Finn went to an Irish pub in Russia.  Why not?  We ordered cocktails, and were eyed off (one eye only) by half a moose head.  We wondered where the other half was.

P1160871

Next we went in search of another bar, but are apparently just awful at finding them.  So we checked out my Reddit thread, as by this time, a few Muscovites had written suggestions for bars and clubs.  We looked at the various locations and settled on one, enticingly called ‘Hidden Bar’.  We’d done enough walking, so jumped in a taxi with an extremely friendly Georgian man.  I was in the back seat, and I remember at one point he was telling Jensen how there are ‘so many beautiful women’ in Moscow, but you have to be very, very rich ‘to get a good one’.

We made it to Hidden Bar, which was one of the least hidden bars I’ve ever encountered.  Other than the random address, that is.  I mean, there were seriously big signs and arrows all saying ‘Hidden Bar’ and pointing straight at it!  So we went on in, had another cocktail, and I completely failed at communicating in any way thanks to the music volume.  I tried though.  I tried my little heart out.

Finally we headed just down the street to Cuba Libre, which had extraordinarily loud music inside, but had an outdoors section where we could actually sit and chat.  Ha maybe it sounds a bit weird, but it was so nice to have a normal conversation with a normal guy around my age.  Most of the people at school are in their early twenties, which is fine of course, but it does make a difference.  Actually, this is something Jensen mentioned—he was saying how he’d often dated older women, and how one time when he was 22, he was turned down by one.  Apparently he was quite offended, as there was obviously nothing wrong with him—but now, looking back, he can see how much he’s grown, and how different he is now to the person he was then.  I’m trying to be delicate in my phrasing here, so I guess it’s kind of like your face—as you get older you lose the fat from your face and it becomes more defined.  The same kind of happens to your character.  (Is that PC?  Did I achieve tact?  If so, it’ll be a first.)

Anyway, it was 3:30 and starting to get light (featured image), so we called it a night.  He disappeared into a taxi, and I (after taking a photo of a map on his phone) wandered off into the night.  I stopped and asked directions a couple of times, but wasn’t actually that far from my hostel, so was back by 4am.  With the, worst, blisters.  Haha my shoes are full of blood, it’s pretty impressive.  But that’s fine—and what’s more, when I got back, I discovered that I had the room to myself!  I exclaimed as much to the lady on the desk, and she said that she was going to check a guy into my room, but then she saw I had it all to myself, so figured she’d leave me like that.  Best logic ever??  But yes, that was my internet-led night.  I’m calling it a win.

CS Lewis

I am living in freaking Narnia.  It’s day 116 of winter, with no end in sight: it was even snowing this afternoon!  That White Witch needs to have her arse kicked already.  The temperature is up from the fairly extreme minuses again though, and it’s due to crack 0 a couple of times this week.  It’s also light again.  It’s after 9pm now and the sun’s just gone down: how has it changed so much, in the space of 2 months?  I quite miss my eternal night, it didn’t last long enough.  At least it’ll be a bit nicer for when Jess gets here in a couple of days 🙂  We’ll have lots of adventures.

After my last post with Charlie the Hedgehog—actually not even just then, people have been asking me for yearsI feel I should clarify that yes, it is my intention to write a book, I just need to find the time.  I know that sounds like an excuse, but the colours have nearly filled out in my head now, it really is just having space and time to sit down… for an outrageously long time… and do it.  At the moment, I’m not only working half-time (read: almost like a normal full-time job) for EF and babysitting a few times a week, I’m enrolled in two unis, run a charity, and somehow have a social life.  For the meantime. mini-projects is about all I can manage 🙂

Of course, apparently if I had more time, I should be dedicating it to my Russian studies: an Uzbeki lady just told me off for not being fluent in Russian yet, after being here for six months!  She claims that’s how long it took her.  Whatevvvvvvvs.  Perhaps if I was gulyaying (ultimate Russian-English fusion?!) with Russians all the time rather than working my arse off, I’d be better at it..!  I wish I was 🙁  My plan at the moment incorporates further studies, so we’ll see what happens.

That plan entails, by the way, finishing up with EF when my contract ends on May 31st.  I’ll then have to leave the country, as my visa expires the same day, and will be nannying for the family I babysit for in either Spain or Italy over the summer.  (I anticipate that the money will be a key motivating factor!  Working with kids is fine, but so mind-numbing).  Then a few weeks off to visit my friends in the UK and spend some time taking photos in Scotland (my favourite country!!)  I’m then going to try and get back into Russia on a student visa, and either just be a student or do absolutely minimal work (though the nannying family want me full time), until one of my friends gets married in India in probably Decemberish.  I’ll go spend time there, go to the wedding, then back to Aus to get a real freaking job.  I can’t wait, you’ve no idea.  Of course, my major difficulty in this situation is the ‘getting-a-visa-for-Russia’ part (I can’t believe I’m back in the same situation it took me 18 months to overcome the first time!)—Australians are required to be physically in Australia when they get their visa.  However, a couple of Russian consulates in Europe are noted to be slightly less fussy, so it’s a matter of going between countries until I find a place that’ll issue me one 🙂

Now, we haven’t had a cocktail in a while, and I can’t remember any of my other ‘Russian’ drinks, so here’s one I stole.  It sound delicious.  Though I can’t stand Tolstoy.  The drink sounds immensely more palatable than War and Peace!

Tolstoy Tang
Ingredients:
2oz Russian Standard Original
1oz lemon juice
Splash of simple sugar syrup

Directions:
Shake with ice and strain into a glass. Garnish with a slice of lemon on the edge of the glass.

(Source: http://www.thekitchn.com/russia-day-cocktail-53053)

Leeve in Russia.

My students have some pretty extreme difficulty in distinguishing between the sounds ‘i’ as in ‘rich’ and ‘ee’ or ‘ea’ as in ‘reach’.  Thus, there are quite a few giggles—still!—when I say I’m going to give them a sheet, or talk about hitting up the beach.  To my students therefore, today’s post title would sound like both ‘leaving’ and ‘live in’ Russia.

That’s what it’s coming down to at the moment.  This early morning, I rang my Nan in Australia to wish her happy birthday, then spoke to a few people at the law firm.  Everybody asked me when—if—I was coming back.  As anyone who’s read my blog ever will know, this is something I’ve been debating, more-or-less since I arrived.  On the one hand, I hate Russia so much that if I left I don’t think I could make myself come back; on the other hand, I love it so much I don’t know how I’ll ever leave.

At Lana’s summer party last Friday night, Nastya asked me if I’d ever go back to Australia.  I said that I didn’t know—to visit, sure, but to live?  I told her that whenever I’m there, I’m mainly just looking for my next way out.  Australia doesn’t feel like home to me, not like Europe does.  In fact the whole country feels impermanent to me—like human civilisation is so ill-established and has such shallow roots there, that one day the continent will give an almighty shrug and all of the people and buildings will fall off.  Nastya also asked whether I’d ever felt as passionate about Australia as I do about Russia, and I had to answer that I felt nothing.  Who knows where I’ll end up?  Haha I certainly never have—I basically ended up in Russia on the decision of a moment—but that’s a story for another day.

solvered

Either way, I don’t think I’m done with Russia yet.  There are way too many stories still to be told!  The only issue I’ll really have is financial (I need to be able to afford my latest uni course etc), but happily some Russian guy found me on vkontakte the other day and said that he and his wife want sort of a baby-sitter for their two kids a couple of times a week.  Hello, cash—and it doesn’t even breach my contract with EF as I wouldn’t be an English teacher as such.  Haha in saying that the guy found me by searching on VK for ‘English Teacher’ in St Petersburg.  They live just around the corner from me, so it could work out really well—we’ll see.  Potentially problem solvered 🙂

I’ve made a couple of updates to inzemotherland the past couple of days: firstly, you can see to the left I’ve put a visitor counter in.  All the other blogs had one, and my blog was developing an inferiority complex, soooo that happened.  I’ve also created a facebook page: posting random things about Russia was taking over my personal timeline, plus Jess’, and then I had a ridiculous number of images and things to post all over my laptop’s desktop—so I’m relieving the load by putting memes etc on the facebook page instead.

moscow mule cocktail

Now, I promised a couple of posts ago to make Russian-themed cocktails a ‘thing’, so here’s another one—and it’s one of my favourites actually.  It’s called a Moscow Mule (hurrah for alliteration) and is a really nice summery drink.  You’ll need vodka, ginger ale, lime juice, ice and sugar syrup.  To make sugar syrup, all you need is sugar and water: heat water on the stove until it’s nearly boiling, then add just a ridiculous amount of sugar (so it’s around half water, half sugar).  Keep heating it slowly, stirring until the sugar’s dissolved… then add some more.  Keep doing that, without letting the mixture boil, until it’s reached saturation point (about 2:1 sugar:water).  Sugar syrup’ll keep in the fridge almost indefinitely because of the amount of sugar in it, though if you plan on keeping it more than about 45 months, add a little vodka to the cooled mix.  Don’t go too crazy making syrup though—you don’t need to make litres of it for this cocktail 🙂

To make the Mules, put 23 shots of vodka (I’m heavy-handed, ok?!) in a tall glass with some crushed ice, add about 2 tablespoons of lime juice, sugar syrup to taste (I normally use around 3 tablespoons), and top with ginger ale.  You can garnish with mint or lime, if you just can’t bear an undecorated drink.  Enjoy!

 

Same same, but different.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about racism, and depressingly, as it’s Australia Day, it’s entirely appropriate.

Firstly, I realise the text in the featured image might be difficult to read: it’s from Russia Today, and says “Judge who sent down racist gang found murdered at city apartment.”

Russians are renowned for being racist.  There were the fights during the Euro Cup, people are warned not to come here if they’re ethnic, and violence is often racially-motivated.  You’ve also got things like this (there are hundreds of videos like this on youtube):

I was waiting with one of my students one day, as her parents were running late to pick her up and I didn’t want her waiting outside the closed school at night-time.  This was when I’d only been here for about a month, and so she started telling me things I needed to know about Russia.  The big thing was to ‘stay away from people from the Caucasus’ and the Stan countries.  I objected to this and she said that no, ‘it’s actually a big problem’ (and yes, my students do say ‘actually’ a lot!!).  “They don’t like Russians and we don’t like them.”  She asked me to be careful.

I think I’m sheltered from this a fair bit, because I’m a white girl who most people assume is Russian.  I do walk through the city late-ish at night after I get home from work though, and I’ve never been hassled – other than being hit on – by ‘white’ Russians (I was trying to think of a way of saying that that wasn’t also the name of a delicious cocktail).  I am definitely not happy to walk in the midst of a group of ‘black’ Russians though.  (I feel like I’m stuck with the drink dichotomy now unfortunately: recipes at the end), as they’ll ask me for money, abuse me in Russian, or get way too hands-on.  I just don’t understand!

This racially-based discrimination is particularly evident at public events – as I said in my New Years’ post, at the crowd barrier I magically got through, while non-European-looking people were being effectively kept outside, or at least delayed in the extreme.  It’s interesting writing from St Petersburg, because it isn’t as conservative here as it is in ‘real’ Russia, the smaller cities and towns that dot the place.  On the other hand, to my eyes it’s less cosmopolitan than gigantor city Moscow.  The city football team here is Zenit, and their fan-clubs publish things like this:

“We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition,” Zenit fan club Landscrona said in a letter…  “It would allow Zenit to maintain the national identity of the club, which is the symbol of St Petersburg…  We only want players from other brotherly Slav nations, such as Ukraine and Belarus as well as from the Baltic states and Scandinavia.  We have the same mentality and historical and cultural background as these nations”.  (More here: ‘No black or gay football players please, we’re Russian‘.).

‘Not racists’ indeed.

Now, as it’s ‘Racist Freebie Day’ today, let’s compare Australia (and also, does anyone else notice the huge contradictions in this poster??  People who ‘aren’t citizens’ are demanding ‘citizens day’.  Eye roll.):

Australian racism
Her: Each to their own.

Me: …isn’t that what you’re arguing against by posting this picture?

Her: Having an opinion is one thing, but trying to change a national holiday of a country you weren’t even born and raised in is another.

Me: Well that seems fair – if you’re born in a place then you’re automatically privileged, and everyone else is an underclass. Now I understand. *Their* opinions are irrelevant. My bad!

Random dude: Said no one ever

Dude #2: If you choose to live in a country you should learn the language and respect that countries traditions, no-one said you cant celebrate your own things but if you live in Australia live as an Australian. It’s Australia day not multicultural day and I hope it never will be!!!!!

Me: Being Australian is embracing different cultures coming together to create one country that everyone believes in- or have you forgotten where we came from? By saying you hope we never have multicultural day, you’re effectively saying you have no right to celebrate tomorrow, as only ‘Australians’ have the right to. So who are they exactly, since you don’t like people from different origins? Who exactly are the ‘real’ Australians who have a right to the day? You’re very good at logic. Ps, it’d be great if you could explain to me what ‘living as an Australian’ is.
Me: Also Dude #2, way to get off-topic so you have the opportunity to share your racism with the world.

Dude #2: No one said I dont like other races I have some wonderful ethnic friends and relatives who have embraced this counrty and live here with great pride, these people have learned to live in the community by learning our culture and language and they can actually communicate with us, Unlike those ILLEGAL immagrants who come here the wrong way then want us to treat them as valued members of the community, they bring extreme violence(mainly against women) and demand better living conditions than people who were born and raised here. Our soldiers are given less respect than the invaders in this country. Get off your moral high horse and open your eyes to reality. And if you dont like the way our attitude is, stay in Russia.

Me: Could you please provide me with evidence for any of the things you’ve just said? Because, you know, hate speech is a crime in Australia. Also, it’s cute that you think people with morals should stay outside Australia so that they can’t interfere.

Haha as I understand it, hate crime legislation covers victimisation of an individual, but I’m hoping he’ll go away so that this conversation can stop!  Must.  Not.  Engage.  Stupid.  Racists. (To me, all racist people are by definition stupid – I’m a racistist.)

The thing that really bothers me is that peoples’ news feeds today are full of parochial rubbish like this because of Australia Day – the day when racists don’t get reprimanded for airing their maleficent nonsense.  It just disgusts me.  I see it as symptom of small-mindedness.  In a way it’s sad – people like that will never experience a full life, because they can’t open their minds or eyes to anything out of their comfort zone.  But man do I wish such sadness wasn’t so prevalent.

I’m a little too depressed to continue talking about this issue, as to my mind it shouldn’t even be one – I treat people the same until if and when they do something that I find objectionable, and then I disengage and leave them alone – it’s that easy. As such, I’ll sum up by saying that sure, there are social problems in Russia – but it’s far from the only place.

Cocktail recipes:

I know quite a few ‘Russian-themed’ cocktail recipes, as I was basically drinking anything related before I came over here. Haha maybe I’ll make it a feature? In the meantime, here are recipes for Black and White Russians:

White RussianIngredients:

  • Kahlua (or other coffee liquer)
  • Vodka
  • Milk or cream

If you use milk, then in a short or old-fashioned glass (~200mL) use one shot vodka, one shot kahlua, and top with milk.  If you use cream, use two shots vodka, one shot kahlua, and around two shots of cream.

 

Black RussianIngredients:

  • Kahlua (or other coffee liquer)
  • Vodka
  • Coke (coca-cola, you fiends!)

Use one shot of kahlua, one shot vodka, and top with coke.

 

 

There are LOTS of variations of each of these recipes, so just experiment and find out which you like best.  Haha you can also make a ‘blind’ Russian by substituting the cream in a White Russian with bailey’s.  Perhaps that’d be better for everyone involved…