So today is again Friday, when I write to you. And let me say what a trying Friday it has been. Not in a bad way, just in an Oh-god-I’m-such-a-foreigner way.
The day started with our excursion in place of class, as does every Friday. Today was the historical museum. Jack refused to go on the grounds that once you’ve seen one provincial Russian villages’ history museum, you’ve seen them all. And he’s right – they take you all the way back to the Paleolithic Era. I’m not kidding. There were mammoth bones.
Not to hate on the history! Which was actually way more interesting than I figured it would be, if only because even though it was general Russian history for the most part, I have yet to experience a museum in Russia before this. So I liked it!
But AFTER the excursion is where the adventure really starts. The four students who actually attended the trip decide to wander the city center and try a new café. Not a problem, as there is an endless supply of them lining the streets and new ones pop up every day. So we stop in to a deserted-looking café. Its empty, is what I notice first of all. Then I notice how clean it is. We decide to order and I drop my bag in a booth before hitting the bathroom. THERE IS TOILET PAPER. This is a monumental moment, seeing as public places don’t often offer this amenity that Americans take for granted. Not only that, but a lock on the door and a toilet seat. Living the dream, I tell you.
Then the best part: free, quality WiFi. We jointly decide that given its close proximity to school, low prices, clean presentation – but mostly the WiFi – this is the new and improved McDonalds, which we will frequent. So with that accomplishment, we’re all feeling pretty good. We decide to hit up the movie theater later, and see what’s playing. The Russian version of Hansel and Gretel (the new one with Jeremy Renner!) was on, so we planned to do that later. Brendan had invited his peer tutor Dasha to come hang out with us, and she invited us to join her at an art exhibit down the street. This turned out to include Shagal, Kandinsky, and Dali pieces, to name a few. Pretty legit for only 100 rubles.
After the exhibit, we leave for my apartment, which is in the same area as the theater. Of course we end up pressed for time and I – not being sure which bus goes to this particular theater as I ride different buses for different purposes, and have passed the theater only on one of them – pick the wrong bus.
So we end up at a building which I thought was a theater. As it turns out, I was right. It is a theater. As well as a café, pharmacy, convention center, and several other things. So we check the movie listing here, for their one theater. Super impressed with myself that I knew the name of the hipster film that started in half an hour – Cloud Atlas.
Now if any of you have seen this movie, you will know that it’s complicated and confusing. And that’s just in English. Having never before seen it, I can tell you that I honestly feel like I’ve been hit by a battering ram. Three hours of intense, deep, and above all dramatic Russian is enough to kill about half of your brain cells.
But that’s not even the best part! This particular theater is not your typical theater – it hosts events/showings that are INVITATION ONLY. Not knowing where to go or what to look for, we asked the lady at the desk where we could buy tickets for the movie. She just shook her head and said something about not needing to buy them, which only confused us more. While debating if we should just stroll in and sit down (like you might do in America) she approaches us again, to make sure we understand. I asked if there were no tickets, then was it a free movie? She sighed and said yes, it’s free. So we checked our coats and continued to the theater. As other moviegoers took their seats we noticed everyone had a piece of paper in their hands, some printed on home printers, some professional-grade ticket paper. We had the sense to play the poor dumb foreigners (and by the time the movie was over, we had certainly been reduced to this) and not show everyone how completely embarrassed we were.
What if I was a cashier in America, faced by three foreign students who don’t understand exactly what’s going on? What would I do? I can’t answer that, but it does make me grateful for the people here who take pity on us and do their best to remember elementary school English.
I noticed the other day while on the bus that though Russians on the whole are not an extremely polite bunch, they have civility and common decency down to a science. What should/needs to be done gets done, maybe not as flowery as other European nations might do or as intensely as Americans might, but its extremely effective. One example of this is a woman in a wheelchair who wanted to ride the bus. She was alone, but about half the men on the bus got off and picked her up – wheelchair and all – to allow her to ride. It was all extremely unceremonious, but everyone seemed satisfied when all was said and done.
This is the first instance I had seen of anyone in a wheelchair here. The babushki here are 70 or 80 years old, and still hopping on and off public transit as if they’re 30, carrying both a mid- to large-sized purse and a pakyet, or random strong plastic bag that you can get to carry groceries from certain stores, and then use it to carry around anything that doesn’t fit in a purse. The men carry them too! This actually makes sense to anyone who has been grocery shopping in Russia, because the charge you for each plastic bag you use. Hence, BYOB – Bring Your Own Bag.