Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The most mundane blog entry of all time.

Last week came the day which I have been fearing ever since my arrival in Russia. I have gone to great lengths to put this atrocious day off for the last two months and thought I may be able to avoid it forever. But, alas, suddenly I found it was upon me. Yesterday I was forced to use a squatting toilet. This is one of the moments when one thinks to oneself 'How did I get here? Is this really where I want to be in life?' Surely there are few things more shameful than squatting down savagely and relieving oneself into what is essentially a hole in the ground in a cubicle with no door. And to pay 10 Roubles for the pleasure no less.

I am aware that many of my friends and acquaintances in England see Russia as some kind of primitive wasteland full of gangsters who regularly engage in kidnapping/torture/organ selling/attempting to take over the world in Bond villain style. My mother was more concerned with whether I would be able to find a cash point in Krasnodar. Personally, I am inclined to roll my eyes at these views and thus far all of my organs are intact as far as I know, although I can't vouch for the rest of the population of Russia. I am also aware that most of my friends and acquaintances know that I am by no means an optimist. However, even I was crushed by the realisation that the toilets in the University, an establishment intertwined with development and improvement, were squatting toilets. Furthermore, Krasnodar airport also favours this unorthodox mode of commode. This is why I have been risking a urinary tract infection for the last 2 months in a bid to avoid these toilets at all costs. I am not naive, I know that Russia is no Utopia. But I did assume that I would be living in some kind of civilisation with 20th century toilet facilities. Maybe when Putin commented that Russia is 100 years behind the West, this is what he meant? I should emphasise that these toilets are significantly more sophisticated than just a hole in the ground. But that doesn't make it any easier to navigate ten kilos of luggage into the cubicle.

I suppose I should have expected something like this. I did have a similar albeit milder shock, or more accurately confusion, in St Petersburg. It is difficult for me to describe what I experienced there, so after some research I have discovered it is officially referred to as the "Reverse Bowl" or "Shelf Style." I am sure some of you are already familiar with this. The rest of you can use your powers of deduction. All I will say on this matter is that is particularly unpleasant when one shares such a toilet with 8 other people, one of whom lives on a diet of nuts, berries and red meat. Fortunately Tajik Sasha has left now, so at least we don't have any more of these pesky residue incidents.

They say you should do something which scares you every day. Mission accomplished - for a few days, at least. And according to Wikipedia squatting is beneficial and favoured in Japan. And we all know how civilised the Japanese are. Or at least they know it.

Monday, 16 May 2011

День Победы / Victory Day

The 9th of May is the anniversary of when the Soviet Union won World War II. Yes, that is correct, the Soviet Union won World War II. I don't know why nobody ever told us this at school. I was warned before I came to Russia not to tell Russians that the Allies won World War II, as it would cause great distress. But the Russians call it the Great Patriotic War and this war started in 1941, so perhaps we won this Second World War and they won this other, completely unrelated Patriotic War? This is clearly the only logical explanation.

Anyway, Victory Day is a day of celebration for all Russians and citizens of post-Soviet states. Parades and marches take place all across the Russian Federation and veterans are congratulated and thanked for their contribution. There is a much more distinct atmosphere of patriotism amongst young Russians in particular than in any European country I have visited, perhaps due to an initiative introduced by Putin in 2005 which encouraged youths to celebrate military victories as a means of restoring patriotism as the spiritual backbone of Russia. The celebrations in Krasnodar were perhaps slightly less elaborate than in Moscow, but the overwhelming sentiment of gratitude, remembrance and patriotic pride were in no way diminished by this. 

Photos courtesy of Paparazzo Sam, who has not quite given his permission for their use as of yet, but will surely be moved by my tribute to his photographic skills.

Various political parties marched down the main street after the main military parade - it was slightly surprising to see such an overwhelmingly large pro-Stalin Communist gathering, although it should be noted that not a single member of this group looked under 50 years of age.

The Happiest Babushka of All Time - we met her later in the day on the street. After Marina presented her with a flower, she proceeded to tell us that she was a nice Babka unlike all the other grumpy ones, that she knew that youths were nice and then sang us a song about victory day whilst cackling hysterically at regular intervals.

Lika's sister giving a flower to a veteran, as is custom. Lika's mum arrived with giant bunch of flowers in hand for us to present to them.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

"Russian смог is like English smog over the Russian language"

Today’s instalment is a kind of tribute to our former teacher, the one of a kind Irina Alexandrovna. No, she didn’t perish due to my astounding inability to improve my Russian skills. We just have different classes now. 

To mark this occasion we all decided that we would buy a cake and present it to Irina during the last part of our class, unaware that it is forbidden to take cake into the university building. The guards informed us of this as we tried to enter with cake in hand.

Anyway, here is a collection of my favourite quotes from Irina Alexandrovna:

Explaining to us the seriousness of using the verb “смочь.” “Russian смог (smog) is like English smog over the Russian language...It is the biggest mistake in the Russian language...It's even in the dictionary...Lermontov didn't use it…but Tolstoy my dears, he was already making this mistake.” 
After reading out my dialogue which my Russian friends had written for me and which I clearly had not familiarised myself with in advance, I found this perilous verb escaping my lips, and in slow motion horror I lifted my eyes from the page to see a look of shock and disillusionment on her face. Following this, Irina announced that she had informed us of this fatal error, which not only affected the Russian language, but also society, culture and politics, and now we were free to “make the right decision.”

Producing a picture of her beloved Lermontov as we begin to butcher his work; “Мой дорогие, он смотрит нас. Очень красивый человек. Умный человек.”  (“My darlings, he is watching us – what a beautiful man, a CLEVER man.”)

Describing the year 2000: “It is a magical number my dears, because the “0”s are like windows, do you see, my dears…and then I saw the sun turning all the colours of the rainbow.”
Sam: “It’s a metaphor?”
Irina: “No, my dear, I saw it with my own eyes.”

“My dears, do you love to embrace the trees? It’s good for your health.”

“Do you love catching butterflies?”