Не привыкайте никогда and squishy hearts.

“I used to be like you,” said my friend Louise, with the involuntary condescension common to happily married couples everywhere.  “Then I fell in love, and my heart got squishy.”

“Louise,” I replied, turning to her, “I only just barely stopped myself from pushing you down the stairs.  Don’t even!”

Louise laughed and thanked me for not pushing her down the stairs (she works next to me, so is used to the rage).  I think I was partially suffering from end-of-the-week exhaustion, but my goodness was it a trial of a week even without people preaching the virtues of romance.  Eugh, it’s like everybody suddenly realised that it was Valentine’s Day and they were single, and I have been inundated.  Phone; email; facebook; people on the street.  Thank goodness that’s over—and other than somehow agreeing to go out a couple of times in the next few weeks (and why? why?!!), I escaped unscathed.  I’m leaving the country again in 10 months; I’m not going to waste anyone’s time.

Romance is something I have been thinking about a lot for the last few months (eg here), partly because it’s something that as a traveller, I don’t get to play with much; and partly because of my book.  My novel is an absurdist fairytale, which gets more and more satirical as I redraft it—but fairytales are supposed to have happy endings, and everybody’s supposed to fall in love.  However, that’s so very different to real life, and I like to write the truth as much as I can, even if it’s in a very silly way.  What’s more, everything the rest of the world seems to find romantic seems like destructive bullshit to me.  I mean, 50 Shades of Grey?  Abuse!  (As opposed to a trusting bdsm relationship.  Also, for the best book review ever, see here—I actually couldn’t bring myself to read Twilight fan fic mommy porn, so read Katrina’s review instead).  On the topic of Twilight, how is a really, really old guy stalking, harassing and obsessing over  a teenager romantic?  And how is all the angst?  Eugh, and speaking of angst, why does every chic flick ever either (a) promote battle of the sexes bullshit (this isn’t a freaking war, people!) or (b) have miscommunication as the entire premise of the movie?  Oh, you didn’t say what you meant, and then you cried about it, and then you said it after all but it was too late, and then you went and tried to get over it while silently moping, and then finally your life was vindicated when the other party ‘fessed up and now everything’s all hunky freaking dory?  How is that something to aspire to?!?!  And then there’s the freaking books.  I read about fifty romance books last year trying to get a feel for writing in that style, and it was all so annoying.  God, it’s like every single one had some difficult love triangle (I don’t understand how you could be in love with two people at the same time), or some man in need of reforming (how about you just don’t date douchebags—hypocrisy accepted), or just lots of sex scenes which the protagonist inevitably views as romantic, even when they’re blatantly not (how about you come to terms with your sexuality, and don’t need to justify or confuse it with love?).

Google has let me down, but I once read something by John Cleese which pointed out that there’s very little difference between the prescriptions of romanticism and the symptoms of clinical depression.  It was funnier when he said it, but.  So do I think romance is dead/fiddy-faddy/whatever?  No, not at all.  In writing the book, I couldn’t figure out whether I was desperately cynical, or desperately romantic—and I really feel like they should be opposites.  I think I’m going to make a table.  Yup, it’s table time.

What culture tells me is romantic

  • abuse
  • angst
  • obsession
  • miscommunication
  • stalking
  • love triangles
  • ‘fixing’ somebody

What I think is romantic

  • trust
  • intimacy
  • compassion
  • respect
  • loyalty
  • acceptance
  • partnership

Stoopid culture.

The other thing that really bothers me is summed up pretty nicely in this quote from the only gossip page worth reading (so hilariously harsh, it’s irresistible):

[W]hile they’re hot, the majority of non-famous chicks think they’ll be hot forever, so they date and bang bar owners, DJs, club promoters, tattoo artists, and musicians. Then when they hit 28, they’ll marry the first dude who calls them back the morning. That’s usually Harold in accounting with the 2004 Chrysler Seabreeze because he’s gone more than a year without his power being disconnected.

It can’t be just me who sees this every day, right?  People (usually ones who don’t know me very well) tell me that I should just ‘choose someone’, and as long as they’re nice to me, who cares?  Well, me.  Because as one of my favourite blog entries ever so eloquently put it, sometimes people are an ellipsis and not a period.  The rest of my life is like a book, why can’t this be, too?  And if I can’t have the Big Love, if I can’t be with someone who’s as hungry for worlds and places as I am, who I can truly love and trust, then why would I choose an unsettling mediocrity over the life I have now?  It’s incomprehensible.

And now, because it seems timely and appropriate and super Russian, here’s my (quick and dirty) translation of Edward Asadov’s poem “Never Give Up on Love” (Эдуард Асадов, “Не привыкайте никогда к любви”).  Corrections are of course welcome.  Also note that I translated “не привыкайте” variously as ‘never give up’ and ‘never get used to’.  As usual I went for idiomatic rather than literal translation, like with Я Вас Любил (Пушкина, конечно!) a while back.  And yes, there’s one sentence which I just had no idea how to translate.  You’ll see it.

Не привыкайте никогда к любви!
Не соглашайтесь, как бы ни устали,
Чтоб замолчали ваши соловьи
И чтоб цветы прекрасные увяли.

И, главное, не верьте никогда,
Что будто всё проходит и уходит.
Да, звёзды меркнут, но одна звезда
По имени Любовь всегда-всегда
Обязана гореть на небосводе!

Не привыкайте никогда к любви,
Разменивая счастье на привычки,
Словно костёр на крохотные спички,
Не мелочись, а яростно живи!

Не привыкайте никогда к губам,
Что будто бы вам издавна знакомы,
Как не привыкнешь к солнцу и ветрам
Иль ливню средь грохочущего грома!

Да, в мелких чувствах можно вновь и вновь
Встречать, терять и снова возвращаться,
Но если вдруг вам выпала любовь,
Привыкнуть к ней – как обесцветить кровь
Иль до копейки разом проиграться!

Не привыкайте к счастью никогда!
Напротив, светлым озарясь гореньем,
Смотрите на любовь свою всегда
С живым и постоянным удивленьем.

Алмаз не подчиняется годам
И никогда не обратится в малость.
Дивитесь же всегда тому, что вам
Заслужено иль нет – судить не нам,
Но счастье в мире всё-таки досталось!

И, чтоб любви не таяла звезда,
Исполнитесь возвышенным искусством:
Не позволяйте выдыхаться чувствам,
Не привыкайте к счастью никогда.

Never give up on love!
Do not resolve, no matter how tired,
To silence the nightingales of your heart
And allow those beautiful flowers to wither.

And, most importantly, never believe
That things all come and go.
Yes, stars fade, but one star
called Love always always
continues to blaze bright in the heavens!

Never give up on love,
Exchanging happiness for habit,
Like a flaming bonfire for tiny matches,
Don’t trifle with such things, and passionately live.

Never get used to those lips,
As though you’re too long familiar,
Like you never get used to the sun nor the winds
nor downpour amidst the booming thunder!

Yes, petty feelings can exist again and again—
Be met, lost and regained once more—
But if you find yourself amidst love,
Immerse yourself like your very blood has changed
Or to the last drop the time you’ll fritter and lose!

Never get used to happiness!
Unlike the dawning light of combustion,
View your love always
With lively and constant surprise.

Love, like a diamond, disobeys the years
And never becomes small.
Marvel always at that, whether you consider it
Deserved or not. Judge ourselves not,
For happiness exists in the world regardless.

And so, love is not a fading star,
But an art inevitable and sublime:
Don’t let your emotions lose their breath,
Never, ever give up on your happily-ever-after.

С днём рождения

It’s my birthday today 🙂  I got up early of course, so that I could try to wrangle with Skype once more (I’ve since given up and am going to try Voxox from now on).  I also checked my emails, and this was one of the first birthday messages I received:

Happy Birthday!!!:) I wish u luck, happiness and to stay yourself, because you, Laura, good person, who can destroy all barricades on your lifeway, who can support your friend in difficult situation and who can stay a real man, inspite all problems)

Fantastic Renglish 🙂  I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing it!  I’ve always wanted to stay a ‘real man’ hahahaha.

With my first group of kids this morning, we wandered into the forest.  It’s weird, because on the one hand I’m studying ecology at the moment, so am constantly in ‘study’ mode and categorising the things around me.  On the other hand, I LOVE trees!  In the end, my kids had to wait for me on the way back to class, because I was the one holding everybody up!

At lunchtime, I tried to set up some kind of phone calling, but again failed.  As such I was late to lunch, and was the last one there until Sasha and Misha walked in.  Sasha then insisted that I stayed until they finished their meals.  We were interrupted by one of my students, who said that there was a ‘big problem’ and to ‘come straight away’.  I told her I didn’t believe her, and she spluttered and walked off.  I was suspecting some birthday mischief, and I was right to: a few minutes later, Michael came in and said I had to come.  I specifically said to him a few days ago that I hate the ‘happy birthday’ song (I can’t even bring myself to sing it), and asked him to please not arrange for people to sing it.  So I walked toward the main зал and two girls started to play the tune on piano and violin.  All of the staff and students were in the room.  And they sang the song in Russian, so that it didn’t count haha.  They gave me a big bunch of ferns and wild-flowers they’d picked, and then just about killed in me in a mass group hug.  Note the expression of terror:


Then there was delicious slice 🙂

My afternoon class was fairly chilled too.  We have an early dinner here at camp (16:30), so I waited until after before going swimming in the lake for about an hour.  It was so relaxing—all I could hear was the sounds of me and fishies swimming, and I was surrounded by clouds and water and forest.  Very nice 🙂  Then an epic stretching session on an abandoned jetty before back to the hostel for an actually hot shower.  Whoa!

Cheese and random noises.

Nastya and I went on an adventure to Выборг (Vyborg), a couple of hours north of Petersburg.  In keeping with my expectations of Russia, things got random. I am not, and have never been, a morning person: so when we got on the train, I blew up my neck pillow, put on my eye mask, and tried to go to sleep.  Then a salesman came out.  It’s pretty normal to encounter a range of salespeople on local trains in Russia, selling everything from magazines to potato peelers.  Not this guy, though: this guy was selling balloons.  Awesome balloons.  Balloons “which you can blow up 50 times and then let them go and they make a funny sound”.  They can even travel up to the third floor of a building when you let them go!  (So evidently, they were nothing like every other kind of balloon..)  Later that day we saw a couple walking around with one of these vaunted balloons, and they also look pretty much like an giant inflatable… well, you’ll get it: LauraMaySkillen (15 of 20) After arriving in Vyborg, we headed straight to a pub for the essentials: coffee and food.  When ordering my omelette, Nastya started giggling at me and I wondered why: she tried to cover by saying how it’s great that i’m so unusually conversational in Russian, but then later she confessed it’s because I say ‘cheese’ funnily.  I can normally say the letter ‘ы’, but when it’s between ‘с’ and ‘р’ I just completely fail!  I spent the half an hour after she told me muttering cheese to myself haha.  And I had the time to spare: we got a little lost and wandered around the town for quite a while.

"We will give to good hands RATS"
“We will give to good hands RATS”
And he became my friend, and I called him Stumpy.
And he was my friend, and I called him Stumpy.

We were finally presented with the sight below: LauraMaySkillen (3 of 20)

It’s at the hostel’s address and had a sign saying ‘hostel’, but strangely, was not actually the hostel.  The ‘hostel’ sign was to indicate that the hostel was not at that door, but at the next one.  Of course!  So intuitive!  Wanders then resumed.

Vyborg was much more European than the other parts of Russia I've seen: unsurprising, considering it used to be Finland.  It's very much falling apart, however.
Vyborg was much more European than the other parts of Russia I’ve seen: unsurprising, considering it used to be Finland. It’s very much falling apart, however.
Just a pot-hole.  Nothing serious.
A heaps good road.
Not just eyelashes for the lights, but drawn-on eyebrows.
Not just eyelashes for the lights, but drawn-on eyebrows.
There are always people posing around you in Russia.  This lady's in front of a statue of Peter the First.

There are always people posing around you in Russia. This lady’s in front of a statue of Peter the First.

We next climbed up to check out Peter from a little closer, turned around, and were confronted by this guy in Russian-flag-themed ushanka and saluting Peter:


We then proceeded to Monrepo Park, which was rather nice.

LauraMaySkillen (9 of 20)

Nastya tries to climb onto the bridge.

Nastya tries to climb onto the bridge railing.

We spotted a rather lonesome soul in the woods.
We spotted a rather lonesome soul in the woods.
Such a pretty rock!
Such a pretty rock!

We saw a guy running helter-skelter through the park with a baby in a pram.  It was incredible.

We also saw three girls heading into the park, presumably to go for a bit of a hike, in super-appropriate clothing and footwear:

LauraMaySkillen (13 of 20)

On the way back into Выборг there was a rather picturesque bridge covered in padlocks.  It’s a Russian tradition to use these ‘love locks’ (thanks for that, wikipedia!) to symbolise everlasting love, and the peoples’ names are usually written on them.  All towns have a dedicated bridge to be used for the locks, but you can find at least one or two on most bridges.

LauraMaySkillen (14 of 20)
Haha I can’t help but wonder what kind of door the huge lock in the foreground was designed to be used on!

Dinner was in the appropriately-named Сова cafe, as the whole place was filled with owl statues and decorations.  The lamp fittings, the carpets, everything was owl-themed.  When we paid the bill I left a crane I’d made from a serviette, and the waitress instantly crushed it.  Maybe owls don’t tolerate avian competition.

While we’d been having dinner, Nastya turned to me and said in a very serious and slightly condescending voice (imagine: to a misbehaving and slightly senile person) “Laura.  You’re just making random noises.”  Haha and it’s totally true!  Since, I’ve noticed that half the time I don’t bother using words in either Russian or English: I just make grossed-out sounds or say ‘meh’.  Winning at conversing!

Back at the hostel, we encountered a super-creepy dude in the kitchen so hid in our room instead.  Also in that room were dresses looking like this:

LauraMaySkillen (17 of 20)

Role-playing is massively popular in Russia, and while Nastya was off brushing her teeth I subjected the poor owner of the dresses to a million questions.  She was in Выборг putting together some kind of catalogue using them… how peculiar.

The next day was verrrry lazy after our epic walks of the previous day, and like all good days in the life of adults, it started with milk and chocolate-chip cookies.  Nom nom nom!  While eating them we watched this weird comedy show, where the host wore this amazing combination:

Mmm, taste the glamour!

We meandered for another good five hours.  It’s always interesting talking to Nastya, as while she’s obviously Russian, she’s also lived in the Netherlands and the US, so has a very unique insight into Russia.

My brain’s a little fried as I write this on the 5th, as yesterday I went gulyaying with Liza and Nastya and was speaking almost entirely Russian for 8 hours (hence the length of this blog post: I have zero interest in studying for my Russian exam right now!)  Lizard’s English isn’t very good, so.  Happily, I’ve had some strange break-throughs in my Russian lately.  Three weeks ago I felt like I’d never get anywhere—and in fact felt so bad about it that I counter-intuitively didn’t go to class that week.  But while walking through Vyborg I saw a sign and couldn’t figure out why they’d written the exact same thing twice: I had to make a conscious effort to recognise that “Kamennogorsk” and “Каменногорск” were actually written in different alphabets.  Likewise, I glanced at Nastya’s phone when we were on the marshrutka back to Piter, saw “рг” and knew it was Thursday (четверг).  So at least my studies of a fairly useless language are going well..?

Finally, Nastya put me onto these two stories: naturally, each took place here in ze motherland. 1. A man gets stuck in a garbage chute after trying to run away from his girlfriend 2. A hair-dresser feeds a would-be burglar viagra and keeps him as a sex slave.  Enjoy 🙂


Our hostel in Vyborg: Vyborg Hostel

“I have a car…”

I’m pretty sure that “I have a car, I’ll show you the city” may be what passes for a pick-up line here.  Anyway, I’ll get to that.

Today I lured Jess out to Zelenogorsk, north of Piter, to go cross-country skiing.  Of course, the ‘skiing’ part failed—despite being assured that we could hire skis there, we absolutely couldn’t figure out where!  Instead we went meandering through some very tumble-down buildings:


We saw some rather unexpected stuff lying in the middle of nowhere:


We then headed back to near the train station, to get some lunch.  Whereupon I had the following conversation in Russian with our ridiculously friendly waiter:
Him: ывоалдфывозщкшфгоцулафоывлд
Me: What?!
Him: You converse in Russian really well.
Me: That’s not true—I just now couldn’t understand you!
Him: Only because I spoke so quickly.
Anyway, the guy got friendlier and friendlier, until finally he came and told me that rather than give us what we had ordered, they were going to double everything instead: he said that that’s just ‘Russian hospitality’.  It quickly turned from a snack into a 4-course meal!

Russians are apparently renowned to be hospitable—at least that’s what my students tell me.  It’s true that this guy/restaurant was really generous, and a girl I worked with shouted me dinner the first time I’d ever even met her, but other than that I haven’t really noticed it.  Hmm actually, I guess Nastya invited me to her family’s house in Siberia for a month over winter as well (and no, it wasn’t intended as punishment!!).  So maybe they have a point.  My friend J said on Saturday actually, that Russians are near-terrifying until you ask them for help, and then they’ll do everything in their power to lend a hand.

After an epic effort, we finished the meal, then the waiter came over and asked where we were from.  We got the standard response to ‘Australia’—”surfing”?!?  (It’s always either ‘surfing’ or ‘kangaroo’), then he asked for my number.  He followed up with saying that he has a car and will show us the city.  Haha Jess couldn’t understand any of this of course, so looked thoroughly confused at the fact I was giving a guy my number—something that never happens.  So yes, 10pm Thursday, we’re going for a drive!  Yay.

I’ll leave you with another pic or two of Zelenogorsk: it really was a beautiful fake-Spring day.




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
2oz Russian Standard Original
1oz lemon juice
Splash of simple sugar syrup

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)