Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day 3, June 30, 2008

Anastasia has come and gone, alas. I certainly can’t blame her. I was tempted to turn around and run away, and she’s already been away from home in Italy for a month. So it’s just the four of us, but she left a ton of extra towels and toilet paper, and a box of cereal, like an angel.

Still no luck with the internet. Here is what we did today.

We woke up, got some fruit for breakfast, hopped on the bus! Went to pick up the pictures the Kodak store took of the boys yesterday, and went over to the University. Our silliness borders on hysterical, and we all try not to be too loud and American, but we just keep thinking of funny things. Charlie may or may not be getting a tattoo of Putin (probably not, but one never knows – the constant sunlight seems to make people crazy). At the university, there was a great deal of confusion. Boris, the Dean of the school we’re studying in speaks English and seems very nice. Alas, he took my last passport photo, so I resolved to go and get some more at the Kodak store after we left. Everyone else was reasonably surly. We wrote down what we thought was a quick test of Russian (not so bad!), and then went into another room where we took the actual test of Russian. Which was an hour long, and 170 multiple choice questions. All the instructions were in Russian. I won’t divulge the scores of others, but I definitely got a 61%, which I think is a reasonable accomplishment, considering how I’ve been feeling since I arrived (“HOLY CRAP, WHAT WAS I THINKING? WHO SAID I WOULD DO THIS, IT DEFINITELY WASN’T ME”).

After that, we waited in a very Russian line, at the end of which a friendly! Russian lady told us swiftly what we were doing tomorrow. We looked so blank when she finished talking and I started trying to write everything she said down. She laughed, and said she would write it. We understood that much. So we report for class tomorrow at 9:30.

Then we went to the Kodak store, where I got in trouble for asking for pictures wrong, and John saved me by pointing to his and saying “this size, in five minutes” in Russian. Something about being in front of a camera leaves me petrified. And then of course, everyone proceeded to watch me have my picture taken. Super helpful. So we waited, and got them, and hopped on the (wrong) bus. But the (wrong) bus’ ruble collector was doubly kind – she pointed us towards the right bus, and didn’t charge us for the few backtracking blocks we traveled.

The right bus took us here. We got lunch, and headed on over to get our I.D. cards.

Where we had a uniquely Russian experience. Of waiting in line for two hours to show some ladies behind desks our documents, and sign our names thousands of times. So now we have I.D. Cards that fob us into our dorm, so we don’t have to be inspected by the man behind the desk any longer, Hooray. And it turns out they didn’t need a picture anyway – they took our picture there. So I am down 220 rubles for my unnecessary and terrible Kodak pictures – but 220 rubles is about $9, so I’ll recover.

After melting and whining about all the waiting, we tried to go see Grumpy Keys Lady. I feel bad for calling her that, but she didn’t introduce herself, and has never been anything but rude to us. She was very busy (at least ten people waiting in the hall outside her office), so we went back to our rooms for a bit, before getting antsy and going out again. We needed to find an ATM and didn’t want to make the sketchy walk to the metro, so we toddled on down the street, where we saw a dead pigeon (remind me to tell you the rat in the parking lot story), and went up the granite stairs and into the air conditioned, home-like lobby of the massive Park Inn which has an ATM in it. And a bank, and a restaurant, and a room with a working shower with my name on it, let me tell you. I am well aware of how spoiled I am, so I’m not ashamed to say that our standards of living here are totally bizarre to me. I look out the window at the few yachts and the projects surrounding my dorm, and it’s more than a little surprising. And the lobby of that hotel just made me want to curl up on a couch and nap where I wouldn’t be worried about the massive spider outside my window or the firecrackers being set off somewhere outside.

But I didn’t, because I would have been rousted for being a vagrant.

And so we toddled onward, after cheating the system and getting 700 rubles out instead of 100, 200, 500, or 1000. Because 100 rubles is about four dollars (not useless, but not super helpful), but if you hand over a 500 or 1000 people will literally turn away your money because they can’t make change. How dare you.

We stopped at the nifty shop next door for some breakfast for tomorrow (groceries and all sorts of things – incredible fresh fruit for cheap, I’d have pictures but I ate it all too fast). Then we came back here, and stopped in at GKLady’s office, where we waited for about twenty minutes. She came out and asked something we didn’t understand in Russian, and looked at each other for a little while. She said “What do you want?” and we asked about the internet, and she said “Go to the eleventh universitetskaya building, and pay.” Very helpful, Grumpy Lady. Thank you. Where is the eleventh building? Who do we talk to? Could you draw us a map? And that is why all of these posts will be on the same date, whenever the miracle of the internets is granted to us.

Then we came back here and flopped over some more. And then we went out for food – there’s a yummy bliny restaurant next door (like crepes), and they have smoothies that may or may not be alcoholic that I’ll have to try sometime later. They translate directly as “frozen cocktails”, so I’m not sure what that means but the pictures make them look like milkshakes and I could really use one of those. And a snuggle from some dogs, and a dip in the ocean, and to flop over in my own bed surrounded by my own family. But I’ll take a milkshake, since that’s what I can get.

Russia is certainly not lacking in dogs, and I thought it was weird once when Cesar Milan said on the Dog Whisperer that American dogs mostly never got the chance to be dogs, but in comparison it’s remarkably true. There seem to be no leash laws here, but all the dogs I’ve seen are well trained and happy, and the body language is just so doggish. Though I did see two in our parking lot today that may very well have been coyotes. No one else batted an eye, but we gave them a wide birth. I saw them later ranging around somewhere else. Bizarre.

In other news, a man came and fixed the lights in our bathrooms today, so I may get to take my first shower without a whole lot of darkness and mystery. It’s possible the mystery would have made it better, as Alexandra reports that we have no hot water tonight.

I finally got a phone card, having given up on the internets for now at least, and having been reassured that they do in fact work (not like the one I had in Ireland, that was useless even though the instructions were in English). And I called my poor Christopher incessantly until he finally took my call during a meeting (sorry!!!), but it was so nice to hear his voice. I left a message at home, because apparently everyone’s slacking over there :P

And now, I must get ready for bed, because I have class in the morning. But bed and morning are relative terms. It’s 2230 here, and...well...I’ll post a picture. And by the time I woke up at 8 this morning, the sun had been heating up for four hours and I was tanning in my bed. I’m going to have to work on that, or turn my bed away from the window. And my bed...not so much of a bed, as beds go. I'm pretty sure it was around for Stalin.

Poka, dahlinks. Spokoinoi nochi.

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