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6 Mar

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Extracts from a past life

15 Feb

REINCARNATION

Silent victims of expectation are the nomads. Social rules dictate inane happiness, whistling their trail down a wily road, free from regret, immune to nostalgia or hardened against loss. Only those left behind have the luxury of such comforting thoughts. Every departure is heart wrenching. Painful and conflicted, every raw nerve carries the memory of a past life. Every movement rips and tears, writhing until exhaustion, weak stumps abandon the struggle. They hang limply, urging for home, helpless against the unrelenting tide of minutes carrying them forcefully towards the inevitable future. Every departure is a death. Every death is a rebirth. In the bracing darkness of the blind, be still my heart I plead.

Lesson 1 : Me vs Russians

12 Feb

Them: “We will teach you how to skate”
Me: “YES!!… Oooh can we drink when we skate?”
Them “Yes, yes we drink after we skate”
Me “Yes,.. but can we drink while skating?”
Them “Yee-es, you can… if you want”
M: “Okay but do Russian people drink when they go skating”
T: “Nao nao, we drink after”
M: “But ? … Why not? It’s Russia”
T: “Because you fall over”

Conclusion:

Russians 1
Me 0

Family Bulletin #2 [extracts]

2 Feb

Phew! We nearly didn’t have a number 2 now did we?

I know it doesn’t really help the shock and worry you all went through, but if it’s any reassurance, I am mentally intact and emotionally unscarred despite the incident (to not say terrorist suicide bomb attack).

I have now survived a whole week in the land of the Soviets even though Russian military swarmed the square right beside our offices yesterday. They had bullet proof jackets (they weren’t wearing their helmets, only carrying them) and had set up make shift metal detectors and the footpaths and ineffectual roadblocks (it looked more like an excuse to chat up people in cars). I still have no answer as to the reason of the covert operation as there has been nothing in the Moscow Times (yes yes I am keeping up with the times!). I reckon it was some secret operation that was only considered covert because they censored the news afterwards.

I again escaped unscathed and wandered south of Mayakovskaya towards the huge stalinist building, one of seven, named the Seven Sisters. I am going to assume that they all carry the name of The Seven Sisters, simply because that way I can avoid learning the individual names of each one which would be way too strenuous! According to my crappy guide book for rich people (that’ll teach me to try save money on important cultural knowledge) they were designed by Stalin, if I remember correctly. But as I said, the book was crappy, and for rich people, so I only paid half my attention to what I was reading, the rest was dedicated to trying to stop myself from petting everyone’s (real) fur coats! I think I even saw a woman wearing reindeer skin the other day, either that or dalamation, probably a mix of both.

It has been snowing lightly but steadily all day, and no matter how much it snows, the siberian workers stay dedicated to their activity and dutifully push and brush all the flakes that come the way! According to one of my colleagues, they import Siberians to Moscow during the winter to look after everything related to the manual clearance of footpaths, what a shitty job. They start about 6 in the morning and are still toiling away at 6.30 in the evening (at least!), but I must say I am glad of it because if not, I would have surely been late to some classes for lack of firm footing and want of ice skates!

Okay, I am all emailed out for the moment. Everybody wants a piece of me now that I am doing something exciting (apparently Sheffield wasn’t exciting enough) it is quite exhausting! That said, I now have skype […] so get with the times people!

In the meantime, I will leave you to admire One of the Seven Sisters (attached) where I will be lunching tomorrow. I have already been asked “why”, to which the only appropriate was “why damn well not” Because I can, and that is reason enough!

6 days abroad and still alive

30 Jan

Tomorrow I will be celebrating the first anniversary (week) of my new affair with Moscow, the largest city in Europe. Everyday I wake to diamond snowflakes. Every night is filled with a siberian silence, only broken by the occasional whistle of the wind in the chimneys of my 7 story “blok”.

Interior design ? I live in blok 17/2. The entrance to the building is braced by a reinforced steel door, as is the door to my appartment. There are bars on all the windows even though I live on the 1st floor. The KGB couldn’t get in, even if they wanted to, not that they would, don’t worry 🙂 Nevertheless, despite all these precautions, I have rarely felt safer or more comfortable. My flat reflects well the tastes of those who designed the metro wagons (imitation wood eveywhere but the walls). It is small but efficiently arranged and comfortable and a part from the wobbly sink and occasional smell of drains, it suits me down to the ground.

 

Healthy eating: I read somewhere that it is not advised to drink Moscow tap water, this has also been confirmed by my boss and my colleagues. Personally, I have been drinking this water for a week and still not extra toe… which basically means that I will have to end up investing in souvenirs, when it would have been a lot cheaper to grow one. Truth be told, it only dawned on me Friday night that even if I boiled the water (which I did), although it would eliminate bacteria, it probably wouldn’t get rid of the uranium and other possible toxic waste in it, maybe that’s why I keep on beeping each time I go through a metal detector… and trust me, there are a ridiculous amount of metal detectors, security guards, police and soldiers in this city. But apparently, even if the alarm does go off, the prettier you are, the less chances you have of being frisked by a Russian soldier (sad times people! 🙂 and they let you in anyway. Getting back to the point, which was food and healthy eating, I have been surviving on a staple and unvarying diet of plain pasta, kidney beans (for protein), cheese, bread and 1 red berry swiss roll. I figure, I can eat when I get paid, plus I am not that bothered by what I eat, who would when they are in such an awesome place? Food can also be quite expensive, nothing is regulated so shops can just hike up the prices depending what mood they are in! Curiously enough though, the smaller the shop the cheaper the products 🙂 all though this demonstration is entirely empiric and based on my knowledge of the local supermarket (which is small), minimarket (tiny) and produkti (street kiosk). Despite this, vodka and cigarettes are definitely affordable and constitute a satisfying alternative to food. Yesterday I bought 500ml of vodka for £1.50 and this wasn’t anywhere near the cheapest. Strangely enough, I have not come across many drunk people, I wonder if they know how good value it is??? I can buy cigarettes for£0.50!! Although none of this bodes well for my future health, I read today that people who do not have a strong bonds of friendship are more likely to have heart attacks and various other serious issues. But I have good friends, so I guess you sort of counteract the effects of my wild lifestyle! At least that is what I will tell the doctor in 20 years time.

 

Coming soon ( because I do have a French blog to look after too, as well as the education of my students and the well being of my computer) soviet art, work and nonsense, how to speak Russian in 3 lessons 🙂

 

MARCH OF THE EMPEROR

25 Jan

January 24th 2011, at 4.33pm, a suicide bomber blew himself up at Domodedovo Airport in southern Moscow. The explosion killed dozens and injured hundreds, some people are still missing. At the same time, BMI flight 0891, departing from London Heathrow, hit the tarmac, not a second off schedule. According to the pilot, there was traffic on the runaway and passangers were requested to remain seated until the situation had been cleared. Twenty minutes later, they were released from the plane.

— — —

Despite the growing queues at passport control, the guards faces remained impassible, whilst their eyes betrayed the boredom inherent to their position. Orderly lines advanced slowly towards the silver gates. Passport in hand, desireous to fit in and denying her natural impatience, she feigned familiarity with the customs of their country as she pushed through to Arrivals.

A grey haze stagnated lazily in the lounge whilst twenty bags rode the gaily around the luggage belt, waiting patiently for their owners. “It’s never been this bad” chorused the well versed ex pats as the bitter sweet smell of quenched fireworks crept inevitably deeper into their nasal passages. Unbeknownst to her, this floating fragrance was the mist of an infinite number of human particles and the undeniable bitter sweet stench of death. As such, she and her fellow companions had become the unfortunate cannibals of an unnamed human catastrophe.

Flight 0891’s cargo eventually flowed into the sea of solitary luggage, breathing life back into the jaded passangers. One by one, she watched them trickle away towards their individual destinies. Yearning to meet her own future head on, she skirted around the over zealous cleaning staff and their oversized mops, advancing as one with the human stream. Their natural pace was abused by sharp blasts of heavy machinery and their ever growing hope was quelled by the heavy lidded stare of an expectant wall of armed Russian soldiers. A mass of electrical wires dangled playfully, like a well rehearsed invitation into the unknown.

The authenticity of the scene was a comfort to the Westerners’ centuries old prejudice. The queues, sullen guards and stakanovist mooping crew were very fitting. The industrial strength machinery, shattered overhead and crumbling walls all pointed to the shoddy craftmanship expected of an ex communist country.

Unfazed and unabashed in her condescendingly over-romanticised and inadvertently, yet blatenty prejudiced vision of her long sought after destination, she had arrived.

She was there to stay.

*PS> I am not harbouring any latent post traumatic stress, but I do have a lot of time on my hands…

Family Bulletin n.1 [extracts]

21 Jan

For all and sundry (?, that may not exactly be the right word, but hey, it’s not as if I have certificate saying I can teach, and therefore speak English at a satisfactory level :).

Moving on, I have now obtained my living and work address and am happy to inform you that I will also have access to a landline (don’t know the number yet) should you want to call! As well as internet, and maybe even Skype if I figure out how to work it.

My flatmate has sent me a map with directions to the local pancake shop (FYI BLINI in Russian) . She has told me where everything is and I am getting picked up from the airport by a taxi that my boss sorted out. They will even have a sign and they will also ask the nice russian neighbour to give me the key, because I can’t ask for it.

As for preparations, I have the bag, I just haven’t packed it yet (nothing unusual there). I also tried to book my flights, but my card was refused on the internet so I’ll try figure something out when I get down to London, can’t be too hard to get a flight can it?

Just kidding!!! I have booked my flight and my train to get to London, all I need to sort out now is the hostel but that’s pretty easy after everything I have had to do just to get a visa! I have also now obtained those elusive Russian Rubles and will be collecting them tomorrow.

And finally, I have invested in a russian-english dictionary, a plastificated (?!) map, a phrasebook, a terrible mini Moscow guide and I can ask for the toilets (Gdye toilets?) and be understood! So, chaps, it looks like everything is pretty much sorted (well apart from the fact that I went to get my phone unblocked/unlocked and the effers broke it. It just stopped working and they refused to reimburse me, so I ended up having to buy a new phone, not from them of course, but they did have the cheek to try sell me a new one.

Nevertheless, unless karma is trying to tell me that I shouldn’t go to Russia, I am guessing that once I have managed to wade through this onslaught of crap (I bet you are all appreciating my delicate writing style and wondering where you went wring with this one  :D), it’s going to be pretty amazing!

And to finish, I have copy pasted some words from future flatmates most recent email which should appease your agitated spirits, (well sort of):

But if it comforts them any, when my parents found out I was going back to Russia the second time I decided to live here, they were so happy that I was going to be ‘somewhere safe’!! It can be intimidating I suppose – remember that noone smiles… – but it’s a fantastic country really, and no more dangerous than any city. Probably safer than London.”

Lots of love,

YEAH BABY

DON’T WORRY I DIDN’T FORGET THE ADDRESSES


PS: If, for whatever reason, you decide to report me missing again, please take a second, remember that I am in MOCKBA!