Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Greetings from Russia!
And here we are in St. Petersburg!
This is definitely the most exotic, far-reaching destination that we have ever experienced. Things are different here, starting with the Cyrillic alphabet which has absolutely no affinity to the Roman characters that we’re used to in the West. The only establishment that we can recognize without looking inside is McDonald’s, thanks to those ubiquitous golden arches. We are travelers apart here, unable to communicate, bewildered, and humbled. It is a truly unique and disorienting sensation. I’m currently working my way through The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera for the second time. It’s assigned for my Czech lit class in Prague. Kundera elegantly explains the plight of the traveler, “Being in a foreign country means walking a tightrope high above the ground without the net afforded a person by the country where he has his family, colleagues, and friends, and where he can easily say what he has to say in a language he has known from childhood.” Ain’t that the truth.
We arrived in the city at 5am this morning. It is now midnight and still light outside. Talk about your disorienting factors. We were exhausted after our long bus ride and slept until 1pm. Our body clocks are completely out of whack, and the seemingly everlasting light here does not help. I don’t want to sound upset or disappointed, quite the opposite; the long days are fantastic. We wandered the streets until 11pm, in full daylight. I woke up today wondering whether it was time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We settled on a schwarma (like a gyro…delicious) and walked the streets. We took in the major monuments of the city and strolled beside the River Neva and her subsequent network of canals. We had some rain, but we’re used to that by now. The rain is more bearable because there is no law against drinking beer in the streets. I don’t have to tell you that we took advantage of that opportunity. Baltika 7 has been our poison of choice thus far. A Russian favorite.
There is not much to report in terms of sights just now. We’re basically getting our bearings in this mysterious city. We plan to visit Hermitage (S.P.’s version of the Louvre) tomorrow, and also the glorious fortress of Sts. Peter and Paul. We’re hoping for clear weather but not counting on it.
John would want me to tell you that we made pilgrimage to some important Dostoyevsky sites today. We visited the apartment that served as the inspiration for the residence of Raskolnikov, the pro/antagonist of Crime and Punishment. The site was marked by a small monument. Nearby, you can look up at three flats in which the author himself lived. He wrote the novel while living in one of those places. John was pleased.
A brief note on fashion:
The mullet is back. I have seen dozens of Russian men sporting what we would term a “rattail” in the states. It would be better called a “beaver tail” over here. They are quite wide and prominent. See the provided illustration.
I want to conclude this portion of the blog by expressing the intense disorientation that comes with visiting this part of the world. Everything is different – the people, the food, the customs. We are very far away from Western Europe, which intensifies our distance from home. However, what I realize as I travel is that people everywhere are really the same. The divisions that exist between nationalities are exclusively the products of constructed ideologies and overarching, (falsely?) unifying beliefs. Who creates these myths? It is not the individual. Everywhere you go, people are people. It is possible to love and appreciate people everywhere, despite what we have been taught about who is good or bad in this world. I feel fortunate to set foot upon a portion of the globe that is shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding for so many Westerners. I hope that I can respectfully absorb the aura of this place and further my understanding of what it means to be a citizen of our world. The multiplicity of ideas, practices, and ways of life present on earth is truly baffling. Contacting a culture that is so different from my own is unbelievably enlightening. I’m exhausted, confused, and anxious, but I feel truly lucky.