Wednesday, September 3, 2014

всё как было (или нет) or "all as it was (or not)"

So first off, I'd like to apologize to my Russian readers/former students for failing to continue writing while I was in SoCal (southern California), especially Alyona and Pavel whom I know both read regularly. I really did have the intention and I often thought about what I would write, and then let the writing slip past me. In fact I have 2 posts started that need to be finished. I also have the electronic equivalent of a mountain of pictures to post because I often took photos and brought the camera with me to take photos to share with you all. I intend to do a quick series to recount the last 5 months (господи) that I did not write. My sincerest apologies.

That said, I have returned to St. Petersburg and it has been a wonderful week. One of the first things Daria's grandpa said to me (first in Russian, then in English) when we got to the apartment was "всё как было," "all as it was" because many things in the apartment are the same as when we left last summer: the shelves, the books, the wardrobe, our bed and linens. Even the kitty litter bag (not the used stuff) and the cat food were still there. Of course Ella did not return with us as we had to put her to sleep in March, but her things were here. However, even though he did not say "or not," not all things are the same. We have a new electronic key for the outside of the apartment building and one of the keys on our apartment's front door also has been changed (for you new readers, we have 3 keys for the front door). We also have a new water filter pitcher with which we fill the kettle. I'm a little sad about that. I always liked the old filter plus filling the jars with silver spoons (which now sit empty on the shelf because all is the same). In most buildings the tap water is suitable for washing and brushing teeth, but not good for drinking without either boiling or buying bottled water. I also figured out a new word which was not on the bottles last time, but is on almost all of them now: питьевая (pit-ye-vai-ya) means potable (Russian readers - drinkable you probably know, but potable might be new for you). Karma, our dog, also remembered exactly which beds she can lie on and that grandma will feed her under the table. For her it was as if she never left and overall much is the same in the apartment.

I also noticed most things at the dacha (new readers, it is a summer house out in the forest where I love to spend time) were also the same. I went there on Friday and returned on Sunday and I must say it was quite an adventure. To begin, on Thursday Daria's family helped me get my new Russian phone set up and then I set off to the office to have my paperwork dealt with while they all went to the dacha and I intended to go that afternoon and they trusted that I would be able to get there on my own, which I am capable of. I decided later to leave Friday and do more things in the city apartment, so I went on Friday.  Karma, our dog, and I walked to the train station and had to wait a little over an hour because we had just missed the previous train. As we waited a later middle-aged woman asked if she could give a little bit of her pie to Karma and I permitted it. In little bits she gave nearly the whole thing, ate a couple bites herself and then gave Karma half her second pie; what a happy dog. On the train, which Karma doesn't like much, an older woman sat next to me and started talking to me about Karma. We were having a fairly decent conversation when a couple came and I hear the woman, who was in front, yell back to her husband that there is a big dog and that he should either tighten the leash or pick it up (I don't know, I got the gist, but I don't know the exact words yet). I watch Karma and apparently the husband didn't listen because all of a sudden there's a sharp bark and a dachshund bites Karma's butt from under the seat. Not badly, but enough that it caused a stir and I had to hold Karma from retaliating while the woman yelled at her husband. She makes him stand outside in the doorway area with their dog, sits next to me and the other woman, apologizes and joins the conversation. As their dog yapped, they complimented Karma. "Она красивая и спокойная собачка!!" "She is a beautiful and calm dog." Unfortunately my conversation with them came to a halt when an elderly man drinking his Gin-Long Drink (Gin and Tonic in a can) decided to tell me all about his daughter Vera and her experience with their very big dog at their dacha. I could barely understand him and the women laughed.

At the dacha I noticed some differences like a map of the roads and the houses had been put up and all the roads had new signs. The last difference was they cut a lot of the trees on the path to the pond so it wouldn't be dark and scary at night. Otherwise, it was pretty much all the same. Blueberries all around the yard, mushroom picking in the forest, swimming in the pond (ok, that was colder than before but probably because they had about 9 days of cold rain), and relaxing while reading (Turgenev's "Fathers and Sons" in English) in the yard. And I still didn't see any hedgehogs. The family decided to return to the city on Saturday, which at first I'll admit made me feel a little abandoned as I just arrived on Wednesday and they left Thursday, and then when I got to the dacha on Friday they left Saturday. I had assumed we would all leave the dacha together. However, I talked to Daria and she planted the idea that they trusted me. I would have to close up the dacha myself. And from that I thought they must also trust that I will get around without help. There was still a sense of loneliness, but I felt better.

I planned to return on Monday morning for my meeting Monday evening, but on Sunday I met with our friend Olya and her daughter Nadia. I spent the day with them, drank tea, ate some apple pie, went mushroom hunting with Olya, Nadia, and the cousins Little Vova and Tonya. Vova was comical as he tried to walk Karma in the forest and got pulled down many times. All 3 kids fell down a lot, but they bounced right back up and continued to enjoy running through the forest. Because Nadia started kindergarten Monday (here kindergarten is more like pre-school in the US as Nadia is 3, but many kids even start at 2), I decided to leave Sunday evening with them. I will say that it was certainly wonderful to see Olya and Nadia, and their whole family again (new readers - her family has always treated me very well and I feel a strong kinship to them).

The office is actually all as it was with the exception of staff changes with new teachers and one new administrator. Everything else is completely the same with the same bad copy machines and the same occasionally broken toilet (thankfully there's 2, but still). The two chinchillas are still there and I took one out of the cage today to pet while waiting around. I even found my old tea cup that I left behind for them to use. One admin even thinks that no one used it since I left and that perhaps I was the last person to use it. That's a strange thought. I did have a great time talking with the admins again and they have been quite helpful in helping me practice my Russian (and even teaching me a few things here and there; or reminding me of a few silly mistakes). My direct academic boss also said that my Russian has greatly improved and that I even sounded like a native speaker (which I know isn't true, but it was nice to hear; either that or perhaps that particular moment was excellent). We had a meeting yesterday and today was an Open House, as is tomorrow (in which I teach a brief 20 minute lesson for all levels in one group - it will be interesting) to hopefully gain new students. Although I can take transport, I decided to walk there yesterday and today. Last night I did take the bus home, but today I walked as well. A nice 45-50 minute walk each way, but it was worth it while I can. And last night I met with some old students to catch up. It was great to see them again and I hope to see them again soon.

Lastly, while some things look the same around the house (certain buildings still need some repairs or a fresh coat of paint), other things do not. A building I watched them construct from the ground up (while walking Karma) last time is now completed. A little patch of grass we often visited (I called it the triangle) now has some bushes on one side, but we can still walk Karma through there. A new store has replaced what was once 3 or more small businesses/cafes. The park nearby that was being repaired is now finished and full of life (it probably took them 5 years or something; it's been a while). The street kiosk on the corner has an entirely new look (I'm assuming rebuilt from scratch, not repaired). There are certainly quite a few noticeable changes. However, I still see some of the same people, such as a father pushing his handicap son on their daily walk, or the semi-feral dogs who lie near the street vent and bark as we walk by.

The final thought of a different nature that I want to leave you all with is that although St. Petersburg, or Piter as many people call it, had an unusually warm winter and a very hot summer, it did rain the week or so prior to my arrival and it cooled things down quite a bit. It is rather refreshing after SoCal and it enabled me to wear my Ladyface Ale Companie sweatshirt I received from Theology on Tap. So far I have worn it every day, at first when all was casual and then yesterday and today when walking Karma before putting on my dress shirt and stuff. It has been great. Therefore in keeping with my seasonal theme that I had last time, лето ушло, уже осень (l-ye-to oo-sh-la, oo-zhe o-s-yen), summer has left, it is already autumn.

The photos are a little out of order b/c my computer was stupid and then I was too lazy to restructure them.

I will write the airline trip later, but I wanted to show that I wore (and have been until I need to work) on the airplane a bracelet made for me by one of my youth group members, Cole. 

I also had my Hello Kitty bow-tie (apparently butterfly-tie галстук-бабочка in Russian) temporary tattoo that I received from the wonderful Rev. Melissa McCarthy (my boss in LA for those who don't know).

I just thought this was cool with all the forest surrounding the city (I believe this is over Poland, but I don't actually know; perhaps Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia too).

Not as noticeable as I would have liked, but this is basically a small city completely surrounded by farm land. Not quite rural, an actual city, but the farms brush up next to the city instead of being a long distance away.

The building I watched them build from the ground up while walking Karma throughout the year last time. It is owned by Gazprom, the major gas company throughout Russia.

I just thought this was cute with Karma making her "nest" out of her blanket on the floor. That case in the upper left that looks like a military weapons case (and is next to the computer monitor) is the compacted new crate we had to buy for Karma. Seriously, it appears like it would carry military weapons, not this sweet girlie of ours.

The Georgian church that I still find stunningly beautiful has a lot of sunflowers along the fence for its properties. I thought this looked great on my walk to work this morning.

On my walk home on Nevsky Prospekt; just a nice evening walk.

Well that didn't turn out like I had hoped. This is supposed to be a solid half-moon over Fontanka Canal. That was a gorgeous view walking over that bridge tonight.

My first evening in town, walking Karma and wearing my Ladyface Ale Companie sweatshirt. Also that is the Georgian church from a different angle.

Karma and the church.

The Georgian church from another angle.

Ahh, the brightness of Tvrichesvksy Sad (pronounced Sod), or gardens, one of my favorite places. For you new readers, you will have to go and look through past photos to see what it is really like (even if you don't read all the old posts, at least look at the photos). Also, that spelling doesn't look right so I'll have to go back and look how I transliterated it in the past. Karma and I walked through here on the way to the train station to go to the dacha.

Another view of Tvrichevsky Sad.

Walking across the bridge to the train station and seeing Peter and Paul Fortress again. The photo does not do justice to how my spirit felt at seeing it again. I love that place and it is on my passport cover.

The Neva!!! We meet again, but I shall conquer you by walking over the bridge. And if you zoom in on the picture there is a white building in the middle with a grey spire; that is the train station. 

Some of the forest we passed while riding on the train. Oh the lovely birch trees. Seriously, it just felt wonderful to see all this again.

The pond in which I swam and must swim every time. For the new readers/reminder : it is about 2 minutes from the dacha.

All the trees cut down (it used to be like walking through a tunnel). I swear I have a comparative picture somewhere, but I was unable to find it.

Sitting in the front yard of the dacha, my book is in my right hand, blueberries out of sight, but pretty much all around me (and hiding in the tall grass behind me even though most of them are not in grass).

Our dacha just barely in view on the right, the well is found under the red circle, the blue thing on the tree is a hand washing device that I think is amazing. I don't know why people would get rid of them, but many have. 

And much later in the evening (about 9.30 pm I think) with the sun setting off the trees and the roof to the dacha.

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